Hospice Produces a Miracle.

September 26, 2009 at 1:41 am (By Amba)

One of the services Duke Hospice provides is a volunteer who will come and visit with the patient at a regular time once a week so the caregiver can go out for a couple of hours.  Volunteers can of course provide no care (beyond, say, bringing the person a glass of water), but they provide companionship for one and a bit of short-range respite for the other, with a cellphone connection available in case a need arises during that time that is out of the volunteer’s bailiwick.

Because I was on deadline when the initial appointment was made by the volunteer coordinator, who was going to come with the volunteer on a first get-acquainted visit, I had no clue when or whether they were coming.  And I wondered whom they would match up with J.  I imagined a kindhearted local to whom he would be quite exotic.  Whether the volunteer would be able to engage J and be comfortable with him was going to be an unpredictable matter of personality; that they might have much in common seemed unlikely.  (Did I mention that when I was in Chicago I visited the senior residence we’re on the waiting list for, and it was full of Russians?!  It seems one of them worked on the construction crew and got himself and a bunch of his friends onto the very first list.  There are signs in Russian in the elevators!  I figured J would be in clover with that — it isn’t really so strange that he loves Russians, as long as they aren’t shooting at him — but we must still be at least two years down the list; and even our close friends there are now urging us to stay here if we can stay in the hospice program.)  The volunteer coordinator had mentioned that they were considering a volunteer named Axel, and that gave me a faint hope that he might be able to speak German with J, who has a young cousin in Cologne named Axel.

The knock on the door today caught me completely unprepared.  In came a tiny little woman and a tall, lanky man with keen eyes and gray hair.  This was Axel, and within 30 seconds I had discovered that he does indeed speak German, but is not German, but Swedish.

Long story short, Axel (while obviously in great shape) is about to turn 80; J is 81.  Axel is married to a woman 18 years younger (the exact age difference between J and me) who was born in Illinois (albeit on a large farm).  Axel is an engineer who has lived in many countries, speaks several languages, and has four children scattered around the United States and 14 grandchildren scattered all around the world.  He has written a book about his life for them, which he will exchange for J’s book on his next visit.  He is intellectually curious, blunt, brave, and warm.  (He says most Americans call him “Alex,” but he knows about both the rare Americans who share his name:  Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop character Axel Foley, and Axl Rose.  How many 80-year-olds can name Axl Rose?)  He lives ten minutes away.

In other words, they could be friends. Hell, for that matter, maybe his wife and I could be friends.

The coincidences were so uncanny that it kinda made you feel taken care of on several levels, visible and invisible.

After they left the “bath ladies” came and duded J up and dressed him, leaving him on the bed at my request so he’d be rested to go to the dojo.  When the time came to go, all I had to do was get him up and put him in the wheelchair with the Hoyer lift, instead of an hour and a half’s worth of everything.

Just amazing.

(Our nurse who’d ordered up the air mattress, meanwhile, wasn’t nearly as horrified by the cat holes as I was — although she did say it was a first in her experience.  Really?  Don’t everybody’s cats sleep in their bed??)


  1. lfineaux said,

    It sounds like such a perfect match for both J and the volunteer! If I understood German, I love to listen in on their conversations.

    Hospice sounds like it’s working out perfectly for you. Perfectly, in my estimation, includes a few cat claw incidents and other things worthy of laughter after the fact. Pure perfection is boring and I have a feeling you wouldn’t really be comfortable with that.

  2. Becky said,

    Annie, What a blessing! I am so happy for you and for J. My dear J is nowhere near needing 3rd party care yet (though I think I may be close!), but it is good to know in advance what to look for. You are my guiding light.

    My mother, who has been in assisted-living for a number of years, has now been on hospice care for 13 months. The quality and compassion of the hospice caregivers is, in a word, awesome. Her quality of life has improved 10-fold on hospice with no other change in environment.

  3. Emilie Babcox said,

    Amba, this post makes me so happy! I’m a long-time lurker on both Ambivablog and Ambience, and have followed your story with interest. We have a few things in common (I was a freelance editor for several years), but mostly I love your sensibility and your writing. This post also makes me think that I might want to look into volunteering for our local hospice at some point in the future. Thank you.

  4. Maxwell said,

    That is just wonderful.

  5. amba12 said,

    Emilie, I’m glad to meet you and to know you have been there all along.

    I second Becky — hospice is something of an island of sanity in a society that’s crazy in a lot of ways. Both the people who work for it and those who volunteer for it are wonderful. You would probably not only give but get a lot by volunteering. Isolation is the worst part of chronic and terminal illness for all concerned. The nurses, etc., are great but they do remind you you’re a patient. Volunteers keep you connected to the world.

    Becky, it’s interesting that hospice is quietly being used here and there to fill this particular gap in services. The irony is that people who receive this simple basic care often live longer, and certainly with more comfort and peace.

  6. amba12 said,

    Hola, Maxwell!

  7. Peter Hoh said,

    The best news I’ve heard all weekend!

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