While some may feel empathy is not something that needs to be taught, but is something that should come naturally to human beings, I do think people need opportunities to experience empathy.
A unique class for high school seniors in New York is doing just that. Simply called “hospice,” the students learn how to take care of the dying and a whole lot more.
I was moved by the students’ experiences, and how they learned to cater to the resident’s needs, both physical and emotional.As anyone knows who has cared for a dying person, it is usually the smallest of actions that mean the most. A student helps a woman who was a speech pathologist but now ironically battles frontal lobe syndrome do a word puzzle. Another student rook time to read a memoir that a resident had written about his life, to get to know him better.
Sometimes the students experience death, up close and personal. It even hits close to home sometimes, as one student enrolled in the class has to deal with her dying grandmother who has been admitted to hospice.
The students shared what they gained from this most unusual of courses. They liked the fact that it was non-competitive, and it was a reality check that we are all going to die someday. Another student liked the class because it wasn’t competitive like most of his other courses; it’s simply about helping other people.
While I say kudos to The Harley School for maintaining such a course, and there may be similar classes elsewhere, I would like to see this become a more widespread movement. We’ve heard about the “scared straight” classes that send troubled teens to the morgue, and while that may shock some into choosing a better path in life, I think being around those who are one step away from death is far more valuable.
I don’t like conflict. I like things to run smoothly and everyone to do their job. This is especially true during a crisis.
Of course, it is in these tough situations that conflicts and issues often arise.
I found out yesterday that after waiting over a week for hospice to begin, with my mom reporting an 8 out of 10 on the pain scale during every home health visit, that the hospice transition process had not even started! The home health agency told me I needed to talk to my mother’s primary care physician. But last week, when I was at the doctor’s office, I asked about starting hospice and the doctor’s staff told me the home health agency needed to fax them paperwork.
I was beyond frustrated. I don’t get angry very often but I was really furious. My mom had suffered needlessly for over a week because these two entities that work with each other all the time can’t get their acts together?
Since the local home health agency is now part of a larger corporation, I filed a complaint at the corporate level. I don’t generally like to throw people under the bus but I wanted action.
And it worked. Tomorrow a staff member is coming to transition Mom to home hospice.
I just wish I had been the angry advocate sooner.