Beth Turbak is currently serving in the Yakima, WA, community with the Yakima Memorial Hospital Transitions Program. Here she offers a glimpse into the life-changing impact of her year so far.
I have had the absolute privilege of serving with the Transitions Program in Yakima, WA, for the past 5 months through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest AmeriCorps program. The Transitions Program is a palliative care program that works closely with hospice. The best way to describe palliative care is “comfort care.” Many of our clients have a life-altering diagnosis. For some, this means there are a lot of changes and challenges happening, but they still may be several years away from the end of their life. For others, they have chosen to discontinue active and curative treatments, if for example chemo therapy is no longer effective, and are preparing for hospice care. Hospice is end-of-life care that too focuses on comfort through pain management and also addressing psychological and spiritual needs. To qualify for hospice a physician has said that the patient likely has 6 months or less to live. At the beginning of my service year I was nervous about how I would be able to emotionally handle being in an end-of-life care setting. I thought that it would be really depressing, and I was worried it would trigger sad memories of when my own father passed away. While this was some of my expectation, it has not at all been the reality.
We have a client on our case load who is a 64-year-old male and also a veteran. He experienced a great deal of stress and emotional and physical pain in his life due to his time serving with the military. He shared that what makes his cancer diagnosis all the more difficult is that he was able to survive active warfare, but now years later he doesn’t know if he can fight his own illness. When this man was asked what his impressions of hospice were he said, “Well, once you call hospice . . . you’re screwed.” For this man, going onto hospice felt like giving up hope. Yet what I am learning through my experience, and also working hard to educate this specific client and others about, is that hospice is not giving up hope, but rather taking on a new understanding of what hope means at the end of one’s life. This is a hope to enjoy last months, weeks, and days pain free, a hope for really special and quality time together for families, and a hope that one’s end of life is filled with dignity and peace. It is through assisting in medical decision making, educating on different disease processes, providing emotional support, and through the use of a wonderful team of volunteers that we at the Transitions Program are able to offer this hope.
On one of my first days with the Transitions Program a social worker shared with me that “death is the great equalizer.” While at first these seemed to be shocking words, I have learned through my time in Yakima that this is incredibly true. Many agencies or resources only serve an individual in a certain time of socio-economic distress. When it comes to dying, it is going to happen to all of us no matter the size of our house, the amount of our assets, or the resources we may or may not have had. This means that I am able to serve individuals who fall at every point on the socio-economic spectrum. This has been an incredible learning experience for me. Every single person deserves dignity and respect at the end of their life, no matter their living conditions. Through palliative and hospice care every single person is able to experience this.
What energizes me in my service is sharing that end-of-life care is not just this sad and depressing service, but rather a way to leave this life just as we came into it: with someone holding us and telling us that we are valued and loved. I am so appreciative of my time with the Transitions Program here in Yakima. It is such a gift.