In a world where individualism is prized above civic responsibility; it seems that many of us are losing sight of the part we can play in contributing to a greater sense of community spirit. Looking outward to see what can be done to make life a little better for our fellow residents is something that most of us have thought of doing, but maybe never quite got round to it.
There are many unsung heroes in Cayman, people who give of their time their help and expertise to try and make a difference. The Observer in Sunday would like to share some of their stories and perhaps it will inspire others to get out and give a little back too.
One such person, who is making a difference in her own quiet way, is Thalia Foster, a volunteer for HospiceCare. The 64-year-old is active within the community by being a Cayman HospiceCare volunteer; a regular visitor at the Pines Retirement Home for the past eight years and a volunteer with Meals on Wheels.
Although she works four days a week in a busy office, she still finds time to “give a little something back,” one day a week by volunteering.
She says that she came upon the idea of helping out at HospiceCare quite by chance.
“I started with HospiceCare three years ago. A friend told me that they were having a course about volunteering and I was interested enough to attend several of the talks,” she says.
“Soon after I was assigned a patient and I haven’t looked back.”
The volunteer says that while home visits to terminally ill patients are rewarding they can often be emotionally challenging. “You have to be cheerful without putting your own emotions too much to the fore and you have to learn when to discreetly change the subject,” she says.
A typical free day for Foster is “hectic, I like to keep myself busy,” she notes.
As well as running errands and helping deliver meals for shut-ins with Meals on Wheels, she always finds time to visit the patient assigned to her by HospiceCare.
As she explained there is no prescribed length or pattern for home visits. “We are not on a schedule. It really depends on how much time you have to give to the patient,” she remarks.
A visit can involve anything from stopping by for a chat and listening to a patient, to collecting their dry cleaning, taking them to the bank, doctor’s appointment, sharing a prayer to taking them out for a drive.
“I’ve taken them to the beach to watch the ocean, done their banking for them, read from the Bible, if they asked, and sometimes shared the local news,” Foster remarks.
She says that volunteers have to be able to cope with a wide variety of situations while being true to themselves. In her opinion, “Volunteers working in this field have to be mindful to do what HospiceCare want you to do and what it feels the family situation, the patient’s temperament and their illness demands.” She also sees it as essential that volunteers understand that [for the patient] their condition is the “big thing” in their lives.
Volunteers, she feels, also need to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and to play up to their strengths.
As well as this, Foster says it’s important to keep a sense of proportion. The prognosis for patients is not good but they “like everyone else has good days and bad days and you have to accept that.”
Her visits usually last anywhere between an hour to two hours. “It’s worthwhile visiting and putting a smile on their face; it doesn’t really take long,” she adds.
The reward of working with HospiceCare is a subject close to Foster’s heart. “I do it for the joy of serving the Lord. He said ‘to serve and not to be served and I’d like to follow that example. I get a great deal of personal satisfaction for doing something for the Lord as opposed to just not caring,” she says.
While there is no strict criteria on what makes a good HospiceCare volunteer, Foster says that when interacting with patients, “you have to be a good listener. You have to care about people but you don’t need a medical background.
“Some of them are alone for a good part of the day and for them; it’s refreshing to see a friendly face and they come to look forward to your visits.”
And although she does not think there is any one type of person best suited for this type of work, Foster says that would-be volunteers need to be patient and understanding, as the strain of the enormity of their situation makes patients withdrawn or quite emotional at times.
“You are trained [by HospiceCare] to remember to not discuss their condition… you have to be careful and use your discretion depending on how they are feeling on any given day and what stage they’re at in their illness. Ideally you have to be someone with a kind heart,” she adds.
Foster also explains that volunteers write up brief reports for HospiceCare, after each visit, on how the visit went and how they found the patient. Any questions and concerns the volunteer has in relation to the patient are always taken to the palliative care nurse.
And although volunteers are not drawn from a particular segment of society,. Foster says it helps if they have certain life skills. “[Suitability] has nothing to do with age though this type of volunteer work does appeal more to those people with family members who have gone through HospiceCare either here or abroad, though it wasn’t so in my case.”
Volunteers also need their own transport and to “be flexible.”
Assessing the options
She explains that in the three years she has been a volunteer she has had two patients to visit and that was because she specifically asked HospiceCare to work only with clients in her area.
And what would she tell anyone who is now thinking of becoming a HospiceCare volunteer? Her response is immediate: “I’ve no advice, it’s not for me to judge,” she says. “I’d simply put them in touch with the office… While I enjoy visiting patients referred to HospiceCare; this type of work isn’t for everyone.”
Given that interacting with terminally ill clients is not something all volunteers feel comfortable with, others help by taking part the fundraising needed to keep the charity going.
Foster also helps volunteers with fundraising by out collecting money at the non-profit’s flag days. “I take a two hour shift outside Foster’s Food Fair and ask for donations and thank [shoppers] for helping those in need. I powder it up as best as I can. If it comes over well they provide. Giving HospiceCare a few hours a week means a lot to me and more importantly a lot to the patients.”
To learn more about becoming a HospiceCare volunteer and the type of training that is involved to visit patients, contact the organisation at 949-7447.
ABOUT CAYMAN HOSPICECARE
HospiceCare has been providing free specialised palliative care for the terminally ill in the Cayman Islands since 1990.
The non-profit, located in the Conch House on North Sound Road, currently has — volunteers as well as — palliative care specialist nurses who attend to the social, psychological, spiritual and emotional needs of patients and their families.
The nurses are supported the HospiceCare team which includes physicians, caregivers and volunteers.
HospiceCare is based in the Conch Shell House on North Sound Road, their office is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For further information on Cayman services and becoming a volunteer visit its Website at caymanhospicecare.ky or call 945-7447.