When I was in junior high, I was in a course that had work experience involved. I chose to do my work experience at the Wetaskiwin Hospital on the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Ward. It was an instant attraction to what I wanted to do with my life. When the work experience ended and I turned sixteen I started volunteering almost every day on the ward. It was amazing to work with these patients and help bring a little joy into their lives. I had never experienced such compassion for others in my life as I did there. Finally, it got to the point where the Volunteer Coordinator and the other Nursing Attendants told me to apply to work. Given I was only sixteen at the time. So, I took my training in the basement of the hospital and was going to apprentice, take my schooling after high school and sign a contract to work there for five years.
It was amazing, hard work and all I wanted to do. I actually looked forward to working as much as I could and took every extra shift I could. Watching these patients who lived a full life deteriorate only drove me harder to make their care and days gentle and special. It was when I experienced my first death of one of my patients that everything changed for me. He was an elderly gentleman. He had suffered at the end and I would spend extra time with him in his room holding his hand, singing to him and just talking for as long as I could. He was always cold. So that night after my shift he requested I would come back to see him. I decided to go out and was going to find him the warmest and softest sweater I could find him.
Just as I got back to the hospital and entered his room with his gift-wrapped sweater, he took his last breath. As he exhaled the room went silent. It was an eery but beautiful calmness. I watched as his soul, a beautiful translucent light left his body and went towards the heavens. I had no words. It was sad and beautiful all at the same time. I never got to give him sweater and I felt I let him down because I did not make it back in time to see him.
I went home and cried the heaviest cry in my mom’s arms on her bed. My mom held me and talked to me worrying if this type of job would be to much for me as I was so personally and emotionally attached to my patients. My mom also knew this was going to be what made me a good care giver. I experienced many other deaths while working on that ward and they all hit me just as hard, but I knew this is what I wanted to do.
Later on in life when I was in college to further this education my professor told us we had to personally detach from our patients and not get emotionally involved. I disagreed with her one hundred percent. These were people. These were people who lived lives and they deserved the very best care from everyone. I would not treat them as if I were made of ice being cranky and crotchety. I spent more time with my patients than with my own family and saw them more than their family did. At times the staff were the only family and visitors they had.