On June 14, 2012in a small assisted living facility in Hampstead, anunusual party was happening. The private room was outfitted in star spangled glory. Red white and blue decorations of all kinds were festooned along walls and around doorways. There was a table covered with pictures of a group of army air corps soldiers looking dashing in their uniforms. Friends, family and a hospice team were gathered to celebrate the service of a veteran who had served for 4 years in the South Pacific in WWII.
A veteran hospice patient whose verbalizations were notable for being brief and whose manner was memorable for being gruff. Yet this very same gentleman was none of these things as he got pinned by another WWII vet (a volunteer of GHC). He was delighted and happy to share an occasional story as he looked at the pictures his daughter had thoughtfully assembled for him. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy being the center of attention and beamed throughout the party.
And it all began with a volunteer. We had been providing hospice services to this patient for several months. And although we were seeing him and caring for his needs in collaboration with his assisted living staff, we never got to really know him. He is very hard of hearing so that posed a challenge with conversation and the patient himself did not seem particularly receptive to talking to anyone, including his family. Then he got assigned a very special volunteer who somehow got him talking and even laughing. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he had started talking to her about his service experience. We had just started the We Honor Veterans Program at GHC and I wondered whether this patient would benefit from it.
I talked about it with his daughter who was immediately enthusiastic and put all of her support behind it. We scheduled a joint visit with his volunteer and we all had the best visit any of us had ever had with him. We used a white board to ask questions and he proceeded to have us in stitches with his escapades in the Army Air Corps. We learned that he worked as an airplane mechanic and that his job was to “keep ‘em flying.” He mischievously reported that he got drafted with his best friend and that they both had a great time “chasing the girls.” He eventually achieved the rank of corporal but “lost my stripes a few times for getting into fights with Marines.” (Fyi, He DID earn them back!) When asked to summarize his service experience, he said “We were all in it together. We made the best of it.”
The combination of a winning volunteer and the We Honor Veterans initiative really worked wonders for this patient. Unlocking his stories made him come alive in a way we hadn’t seen before. It brought his hospice team focus and greater knowledge of the person behind the patient and it revitalized his daughter’s relationship with him. And it all culminated in a beautiful pinning ceremony on a sunny Flag Day in Hampstead. Team Work at it’s very best!