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Brad Tice says doing patient transfers for palliative care is usually depressing, but a trip on May 7 was out of the ordinary.
— Read on regina.ctvnews.ca/mobile/patient-taken-on-final-ice-cream-trip-on-the-way-to-hospice-1.4434724

Where I’ve been

When I opened my blog the other day, I could hardly believe that it had been over two months since I last wrote here. There are many reasons for my silence – the intensely snowy and icy Ottawa winter that kept many of us hiding in our houses, reading books and longing for winter to end! The birth of my newest grandchild (and countless trips to Toronto to help with preparations and host a shower, and now hours upon hours of walking with her, delighting in the wonder of a new life in this world. A journey to Boston en famille to watch my older daughter compete in her third Boston marathon! Visits to my eldest sister as she recuperated from heart surgery.

I’ve termed this year in which I will turn 70 the year of the family – and it is certainly proving to be an appropriate moniker. It seems as though my “to do” lists consist of trip preparations and must-not-forgets; and my time at the computer seems to be spent booking VIA rail trips and hotels, rather than writing blog posts or brilliant stories. Moments are captured in fragments in my journal and photographs on my newest Iphone. It has been a fabulous year and I am quite literally full of gratitude.

Of course, I still wonder where I will find my place in the world of hospice volunteering. I keep up to date on events and developments in palliative care and surround myself with the newest books and articles on death and dying.

In closing, I wanted to share a moving article about hospice palliative care that appeared in a local magazine last month. It’s a beautiful reminder of the tremendous value of  hospice care for dying people and their families.

https://ottawamagazine.com/magazine/palliative-powers/

 

Part 2 of the interview I did with Meridian Swift, volunteer manager and blogger extraordinaire. Writing this blog has enabled me to meet people literally around the world who are committed to volunteering, hospice care, and justice. Enjoy!

volunteerplaintalk

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Experts with skills and talents to share are everywhere, including the many experts within our volunteer programs. Last week, in our first part of this interview, Katherine Arnup, author of the new book, “I don’t have time for this,” shared her story in both caring for loved ones and volunteering at her local hospice.

In part 2, Katherine gives us insight into how we can encourage the experts among us.

VPT: How can organizations recognize volunteer contributions?

K: I think volunteer contributions are not easily measured. Organizations can miss out on all the things volunteers contribute by not recognizing the whole person and what they bring. I used to speak to other hospice volunteer appreciation meetings. I would have volunteers come up to me afterwards and say, “thank you so much for understanding what we do and thank you for validating us and our work.” The volunteers were so grateful…

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Recently, I had a wonderful conversation with the author of Volunteer plain talk (https://volunteerplaintalk.com). It’s always so energizing to have the opportunity to talk about mission and meaning in the volunteer work we do. Part 2 will be posted next week.

volunteerplaintalk

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Part One of Two:

Recently, I was fortunate to catch up with Katherine Arnup, author of the new book, “I don’t have time for this,” a practical, yet emotionally supportive book that guides caregivers through the difficult process of caring for aging parents.   Katherine’s amazing book is available here: “I don’t have time for this,” by Katherine Arnup.

Katherine is an example of the highly talented volunteers who contribute to their organizations far beyond the hours recorded. These volunteers ambitiously advocate for their chosen organizations and work behind the scenes to create awareness.

For years, Katherine has been a strong voice advocating for terminally ill people and their caregivers.

In this two-part post, we have the opportunity to learn from Katherine’s story, one which formed her dedication to spreading awareness of the hospice mission. Like Katherine, mission experienced volunteers give our organizations the opportunity to gather important feedback about…

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The poet, Mary Oliver, died on January 17th at the age of 83. Her poetry has inspired me in my life, my work and writing for more than two decades. Here’s a link to a lovely reflection on her writing and her legacy.

The late poet’s work inspired a deeper understanding of attention, suffering, interconnectedness, and hope.
— Read on tricycle.org/trikedaily/mary-oliver/

https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/helping-people-tell-their-life-story-as-they-face/10494368

Here’s a link to an Australia report on a program where volunteers help terminally ill people to write their life stories. I would love to be part of such a program!

Here’s a link to an interview with Kelli Stadjuhar, whose work with marginalized people has inspired me for years. I was fortunate to hear her at the International Congress this month. She is passionate about the way end of life care is (and is not) provided to people who live on the margins of society.

www.cbc.ca/player/play/1353794115819

Recently, I gave a talk to the +55 Multi Cultural Seniors’ Club Program at Foster Farm Community Centre. When I walked into the venue, I was a little surprised to hear loud music and to see a group of some 35 people doing dance moves in response to the commands of a very enthusiastic man at the front of the room. Since it was 5 to 11 when I arrived (and my talk was to begin at 11!) I was a little concerned that I might be at the wrong place!

But soon, the instructor gave a command in Chinese, which I gathered was telling people it was time to talk their places at the tables set up around the room. As I looked around, I realized that everyone (with the exception of one table, and they seemed to be Syrian) was Chinese!

I looked at my carefully prepared talk and readings from my book with some amount of trepidation. How would I ever get my message across? Just then, a woman approached me, assuring that she would translate. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I used to work as a translator for many years. It will be fine!!”

And so I began. It was an entirely new experience for me to engage with an audience in two sentence bites. I would say a couple of sentences, or ask a question – then everyone would look to the translator, who would talk for a length of time. Then everyone would nod, or give me a thumbs-up.

Obviously I had to improvise a great deal – the text was abandoned, and on the spot I figured out what were the essential things I wanted to get across to this lively group of 70 and 80 plus year old people.

Every so often, a small group would start talking among themselves and I wondered whether they were talking about me, my talk, or something else entirely. Then I said to myself, does it really matter, as long as they are having a good time?

After the talk was over (and before the Chinese pot-luck feast they had prepared), several people, one by one, came up to speak to me. Some just shook my hand to thank me for coming. One of the few men in attendance told me how important it was to raise these issues of caregiving and end of life with his group! Another woman told me she had been a biology professor and that her mother had died at 104! The woman who had translated told me proudly that she was 85 – and not for the first time, I envied the fact that Chinese people seem to never show their age!

As I packed up my things and prepared to leave, the group resumed their dancing. In the end I think I did make an impression on the audience, and I congratulated myself for being able to dance in the moment!

I hope I get more opportunities to reach out to communities I might never otherwise meet!

On the final day of the International Congress, I attended two sessions about providing palliative care to underserved populations. This term refers to a wide range of people including prisoners, those traditionally referred to as homeless (whether living on the street, in a mission or shelter, or underhoused in precarious housing). What I like about the terms underhoused and underserved is that it removes the automatic judgement so frequently attached to people who lack access to services that most of us take for granted, as if this lack were entirely their fault.

The commitment of the speakers I heard in these sessions reminds me of the words of Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of St. Christopher’s House in London and considered to be the founder of the hospice movement. Her phrase was cited often at the Congress as it is by hospices throughout the world.

“You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.” Cicely Saunders

Researchers and palliative care activists Kelli Stajduhar (Victoria), Naheed Dosani (Inner City Health Associates in Toronto and co-founder of the Journey Home Hospice in that city), and Simon Colgan (Alberta Health Services, Calgary) spoke passionately about the work they are doing and what it will take to achiever equality in palliative care access and services in this country. I have heard Dr. Dosani speak before and I would highly recommend that readers familiarize themselves with his work (and hear him speak if you get the chance!) To read about Journey Home, visit their website. https://journeyhomehospice.ca/

All three speakers demonstrated the blatant and sometimes subtle ways in which access to palliative care is denied to people who lack access to housing and other social services. Without a fixed address, for example, people are often denied disability and welfare benefits, as well as a  health care card (which is required to receive provincial health care services). Through the Journey Home Hospice (Toronto), like the Mission Hospice in Ottawa, and May’s Place (in downtown Eastside Vancouver) people who can’t access traditional hospice services can receive the care and dignity to the end of their lives that Dame Cicely Saunders envisioned.

As readers can no doubt tell, I was inspired by the words and work of those who are working to ensure access to hospice palliative care to everyone, regardless of their social status, race, citizenship or nationality. I will be looking for ways to support the amazing work that they do.

I promised I would write more about my experiences at the Palliative Care Congress and though it’s been more than the few promised days since I last wrote, I’m determined to document a few of the amazing sessions I attended.

Although I typically seek out sessions on volunteer issues, this time I decided to branch out and seek out sessions on palliative care for underserved population. The first such session was on palliative care during humanitarian crises. Even the title boggled my mind. What must it be like to provide palliative care in the midst of the chaos of war, conflict, forced evacuation?

In the first paper, Dr. Anna Voeuk from the University of Alberta talked about her experiences working in an emergency field hospital in Northern Iraq. Voeuk’s passionate presentation documented the range of crises health care workers faced and the need to triage incoming cases with those who could not be saved being given the designation of black, as workers turned their attention to the cases that might benefit from their care. Voeuk added that her field hospital had decided that no one would be left to die alone – a staff members, ranging from cleaners to physicians, would take turns sitting with a dying person until they passed, a moving example of humanity even in the face of war and mass casualties.

Dr. Voeuk also talked about the need for resilience, flexibility, and creative problem solving in order to meet the needs of their patients. Lacking essential medications and equipment, physicians would improvise to set broken limbs, control pain, and fight infection.

Equally inspiring was the presentation by Dr. Megan Doherty, a pediatric palliative care physician  at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and Ottawa’s Roger Neilson House, who  served for three years in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bengladesh. Doherty described the conditions among the 919,000 Rohingya people, 60 per cent of whom are between the ages of zero and 15. Dr. Doherty continues to divide her time between her work in Ottawa and in Bengladesh, providing training and care under extremely challenging circumstances.

I would have wished for the chance to ask Drs. Voeuk and Doherty what had motivated them to offer their services to humanitarian crises, and what impact these experiences have had on their work back in Canada. The standing room only audience for their presentations was clearly as moved as I was by their contributions and dedication.

In the coming days, I’ll write about the sessions I attended on providing care for underserved populations in Canada.

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