It was pouring rain when I got to the hospital to pick up my friend's personal belongings.
A phone call at 4:45 that morning had woken me with the sad message that my friend had passed away during the night. The nurse had been unable to reach her son, so she called the next name and phone number on her chart. I remembered the day a nurse had put my name down with the remark “contact person”. My friend had been so weak that day and it was the first time she had asked me for help, she realised that her life had changed drastically. She wanted me to be her advocate knowing that her only son in Vancouver would have a hard time communicating with her doctor and the hospital staff from a distance, and he would be unable to be with her every day.
She was a great little lady with a wonderful sense of humour, easy to be with and easy to love. She had been so independent in her life and now at age 81 she knew she needed help. I knew what that meant and of course I could not say “no”. When I gave the nurse my name and phone number I thought they would call in case my friend would need me. Having seen her so fragile and weak for so long, I was prepared to be there with her in her last moments, just in case her son could not be there in time. She had spent a month in the hospital when that phone call finally came. I was ready to get there as fast as I could to be with her. The voice on the phone told me she had died in her sleep. It had been so quiet in her room, she seemed different and that’s when the nurse had found out that she had passed away, alone.
Something felt so wrong, my name wasn’t on her chart to tell me she had passed away; it was there for when she needed me. Somehow it felt like I had failed. I had seen her getting weaker and weaker, even as her only advocate in town it was hard to find out what was wrong with her. The nurses were kind and tried to comfort me. They told me not to worry, to understand she was old and things don’t generally go that fast. The condition of older people often goes up and down when their health gets into trouble. But I knew that, from past experiences. They gave her the very best care they could. All along I had understood that they were trying to help to get her well; to achieve what the balloon attached to the flowers on the table in her room wished her: “get well soon”. But I had also realised that my friend would not get better and eventually would have to leave the hospital, no matter what her condition would be.
I was told that she was on a waiting list for long term care in one of the nursing homes, which seemed not right to me in her condition. Several times I had mentioned Ty Watson House being available for my friend’s care. The staff promised that they would pass this on to the medical team and surely they did. Her son and wife had visited Ty Watson House and they had asked her doctor to consider having her on the palliative care list, so she could have more quality time in Ty Watson House. He promised to discuss this within the medical team, who makes this decision. And although surely everybody did their best, it was not enough. After one month in the hospital and almost 3 months ill after a fall in her home, she was simply very tired and her heart gave up.
There I was rolling her belongings on a cart to my car in the rain wondering what else I could have done for her; after all I am a hospice volunteer. I had put her things in the back of my car and I looked at the balloon someone had attached to the handle of her little brown suitcase; it read “Get Well Soon”. I untied the ribbon and let the balloon fly way up in the sky towards the black rain clouds and wondered if my friend would be somewhere up there. I rolled the now dripping wet cart back into the hospital and when I returned to my car, I noticed a change, the rain had stopped. Something made me look up, it seemed lighter and brighter now and my eyes caught the view on the inlet from the hospital parking lot. I could not believe the beautiful rainbow in full length over Port Alberni. The sky opened a little blue and the sun came out to paint the rainbow even stronger and brighter. That’s when I realised my friend was up there and she had, in a matter of speaking, received the balloon’s message “Get Well Soon” and she had sent the rainbow to comfort me. I knew she was ok and wanted me to be too.
Ty Watson House has been open for almost 2 years now. It provides end of life care and respite care in a homelike setting. For those who want to know more, please phone the Hospice Office 250.723.4478 or visit our Website www.albernihospice.ca