Months To Years Spring 2018 Months To Years Spring 2018 - Page 16

Small Talk With The Dying by Ben Shaberman

Small Talk With The Dying by Ben Shaberman

When I first walked into Joe ’ s room , all I could think was , “ Why the hell did I sign up for this gig ?”
He was one of my first patient encounters as a hospice volunteer , and he was barely clinging to life . I was asked to read to him . He was a large-framed , middle-aged , lightskinned African-American , likely to pass away within the next day or so . Sadly , he had no friends or family visiting him . He just lay motionless and unconscious on the bed , drawing slow , shallow breaths .
This was only my third time on the hospice inpatient unit , and I hadn ’ t done anything remarkable up to that point — answered the phone , filled water pitchers , and told visiting families about local restaurant options . My patient interaction had been minimal . So , when Rita , the nurse on duty that evening , asked me to sit and read to this guy , I felt apprehensive . I trusted that Rita knew what she was doing , because caring for the patients came so naturally to her ; I ’ d never seen anyone with so much unconditional compassion or ease in the difficult circumstance of impending death . She told me it was important for people not to die alone , but I nonetheless felt completely unprepared and unqualified to be with this man during his final hours .
In the limited hospice volunteer training I received , the main message was to be passive when dealing with the patients . Let them take the lead . Don ’ t try to do too much . Be a good listener . Respect the patient ’ s privacy and
confidentiality . I was also told that though a patient might be unresponsive , there was a chance they could still hear , so I should be careful about what I said in their presence . But they didn ’ t tell us how to manage the awkwardness that may come for us when sitting with a dying person . I inquired about becoming a hospice volunteer shortly after turning 30 — the first time in my life I thought about my own mortality . But more than anything , I wasn ’ t finding much meaning in my technology sales career , and needed more of personal , intimate connection to the world . Call it a morbid curiosity , but I also wondered what it was like to be with a person during the last few days of their life . What would they have to say about it all ?
Well , Joe couldn ’ t say much at that point . I sat quietly in his room for a few minutes with a book about Bali on my lap . I selected the title from the hospice ’ s modest library because it seemed like a safe choice . Who wouldn ’ t enjoy hearing about this beautiful and exotic destination ? There shouldn ’ t be too much in the way of sex , drugs , or rock and roll to offend him .
First , I decided to read to Joe about Bali ’ s history — its strong Hindu influence , Dutch colonization , and rich artistic culture . I told him about one Balinese king who had 200 wives and an entourage of 50 dwarves . That makes the Mormons look like real underachievers , I thought to myself , wondering if Joe would appreciate my off-color quip .
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Small Talk With The Dying by Ben Shaberman When I first walked into Joe’s room, all I could think was, confidentiality. I was also told that though a patient might “Why the hell did I sign up for this gig?” be unresponsive, there was a chance they could still hear, so I should be careful about what I said in their presence. He was one of my first patient encounters as a hospice But they didn’t tell us how to manage the awkwardness volunteer, and he was barely clinging to life. I was asked to that may come for us when sitting with a dying person. read to him. He was a large-framed, middle-aged, light- I inquired about becoming a hospice volunteer shortly skinned African-American, likely to pass away within the after turning 30—the first time in my life I thought about next day or so. Sadly, he had no friends or family visiting my own mortality. But more than anything, I wasn’t him. He just lay motionless and unconscious on the bed, finding much meaning in my technology sales career, drawing slow, shallow breaths.  and needed more of personal, intimate connection to the world. Call it a morbid curiosity, but I also wondered what This was only my third time on the hospice inpatient it was like to be with a person during the last few days of unit, and I hadn’t done anything remarkable up to that their life. What would they have to say about it all? point—answered the phone, filled water pitcher ̰ѽ)٥ͥѥ́ЁɕхɅЁѥ̸5ѥЁ])ձeЁͅ䁵ՍЁѡЁи$ͅЁեѱ䁥)ѕɅѥMݡIфѡ͔́ɽȁ܁ѕ́ݥѠЁ )ѡЁٕͭѼͥЁɕѼѡ́䰁$$͕ѕѡѥѱɽѡéЁɅ)Ёɕͥٔ$ѕѡЁIф܁ݡЁ͔݅́͡Ё͕ͅ]ݽձeЁ)͔ɥȁѡѥ́ͼɅ䁡ɥЁѡ́ѥհѥѥѥQɔ)Ѽ'eٕȁ͕役ݥѠͼՍչѥ͡ձeЁѽՍѡ݅䁽͕ఁ՝̰ȁɽ)ͥȁ͔ѡձЁɍյхɽѼ)ѠMѽЁ݅́хЁ)ЁѼЁ$ѡ́Ёѕа$ѼɕѼ)Ё éѽQ)չɕɕչՅѼݥѠѡ́ɥ́ɽ!ԁՕэѥɥ)̸ѥѥձɔ$ѽЁ ͔ݡ(ݥٕ́ѽɅ̸ٕ݅QЁ)%ѡѕٽչѕȁɅ$ɕٕѡѡ5ɵ́ɕչɅٕ̰$ѡ՝ЁѼ)݅́ͅѼͥٔݡݥѠѡ͕ݽɥ)ݽձɕє䁽)ѥ̸1ЁѡхѡeЁѼѽՍե) ѕȸIЁѡѥӊéɥم䁅(