Living with a serious illness can be an isolating experience. For some of the people we serve, their only regular visitors are their Gilchrist team. Every team member serves an important role, but the value of our volunteers cannot be overstated. Through companionship and social interaction, they help ease the loneliness that many of our patients experience. I have seen firsthand how important this interaction can be to those who are seriously ill.
My first week at Gilchrist, I shadowed a nurse on one of her visits. The patient was an elderly woman who rarely left home because of her chronic heart failure. When she saw us arrive, her face lit up. Though the nurse was there to address the patient’s medical needs, she also took time to talk to her in a way that felt like a social visit. She asked about pain level and also about the woman’s grandchildren. She explained how to take her morphine and then talked about the Orioles game. At the end of the visit, the patient told us visits like these were the highlight of her week.
For patients who live alone, volunteers can provide extra social support in between clinical visits. Even those living in residential care communities may experience loneliness—though they are surrounded by people, they may have few close connections. Having a hospice volunteer sit and read to them or chat can make all the difference in their emotional well-being. At the same time, our volunteers tell us their work brings enormous personal fulfillment to their own lives, knowing they are making a difference for others.
Gilchrist volunteers are compassionate listeners who can leave their own worries at the door and bring their entire presence to another. They take time to get to know patients. One of our volunteers brings photos of each patient’s hometown, or books about their interests. One of his patients was a “foodie,” so each week they sat and talked about food—including a favorite brand of pickles. The patient later asked his daughter to send his volunteer a jar of them.
Volunteer visits are so meaningful to those we serve, and their presence helps provide our patients and families with compassionate and comprehensive care at the end of life. As Gilchrist continues to grow, we need more volunteers than ever. We want to be able to provide volunteer services to all of those in need.
Volunteering with Gilchrist might just be the most fulfilling thing you’ve ever done. To learn more about becoming a volunteer and to sign up, visit https://www.gilchristcares.org/volunteer/volunteertraining/ or call us at 443.849.9511.