As a volunteer during these past nine months, I have had the privilege of living at Gaspar Mission House, my Kansas City home. Here, Fathers Al, Garry and Dick welcomed me as a member of the house from the night I moved in last fall. This foundation has been there for me through everything I have done, from gathering for dinner to inviting me into their respective parishes to taking me to the airport on many occasions and so much more. I have also been welcomed by the local companions group, which has met at Gaspar Mission House throughout the year. This community lives the Precious Blood mission by valuing the image of Christ in all people, focusing on helping those who don’t enjoy full participation in society.
My work fit into the Precious Blood mission by caring for sick and, in many cases, impoverished members of the Kansas City community. I assisted operations at Truman Medical Center in many ways as a full time volunteer, with a focus on assisting in and improving patients’ hospital experiences. While doctors do not have the time to get to know patients well, I do. Furthermore, I have the additional benefit of time to personally connect with patients.
In one instance a few weeks ago, I was surprised by a patient’s question. A long time had passed since a patient surprised me, because I felt like I had heard or seen just about everything at this point in my volunteering. I had met this patient a few months ago when she was first brought to the hospital, and many diagnostic tests were being run to find out what had been causing her symptoms. This time around, she was going through her first round of chemotherapy, as her medical team recently determined she had cancer. She inquired, “Why is it that in the time I have been here, the only person I have seen every day is you?”
I wondered why this was the case. In the morning the medical students see their patients, and the entire medical team makes its rounds later in the day. Since this happens every day, along with many other daily tasks, I was not sure why I was the only person who saw her so regularly. Before I responded, she said “Thank you for coming in every day; it’s nice to see a familiar face.” Considering how little time I spent in her room, I was honestly surprised that she remembered me, let alone that she realized I had stopped by each day. Despite her tough cancer diagnosis and treatment, she willingly offered me a genuine message of gratitude for simply stopping by her room. This comment meant very much to me, and is a memory that will stay with me.
In the aforementioned example and so many others, patients and staff members at TMC were true blessings for me. Patients were so grateful for the little I offered, and I became close with some of the frequent Truman patients who wished me well, asked me to stop by later to continue our conversations, or to keep them in my prayers. The staff members were great role models in patient-centered care. I am fortunate to have been surrounded by many caring and supportive people at Truman. This support was especially nice as I encountered difficulties with some patients.
While in many cases patients at Truman were a blessing, they also posed challenges. Some patients were understandably irritated during their hospital stay, which made interacting with them difficult. For instance, when answering a patient’s call light as I had done countless times previously, the patient began yelling over the phone for seemingly no reason. I continued to speak with this patient in a calm manner as I did with every other patient. In this small way I tried to put the patient at ease. This felt especially important, as something was clearly weighing on this patient, and I did not need to add to the patient’s stress level. The nurse later told me this patient had mental issues for most of her life and despite our best efforts, our work may not be appreciated or noticed.
I have become comfortable entering patients’ rooms and speaking with all types of people. I met people of so many backgrounds, ages and reasons for coming to Truman. Nevertheless, no matter how different people may seem, we are all very similar in that everyone wants to feel respected and heard. For this reason, I gave my best effort to treat all patients with respect, no matter how it seemed to be perceived. For example, the man going through his final course of chemotherapy and the lady who hadn’t realized how much she liked the companionship of a dog are both happy to speak with someone about their interests in life. I had the benefit of time as a volunteer, able to converse with and develop relationships with patients who were unfortunately in the hospital for a long time or frequently returned to Truman.
This year in which healthcare-based service has been my main priority has given me a great understanding of the communication and teamwork necessary to care for each patient, and has reaffirmed my decision to enter medical school. I am eager to continue caring for patients and building the knowledge base necessary to practice medicine. I look forward to a career in medicine, and am excited to put all my effort into becoming the best physician I can be.
Just as Jesus shed his blood not for a select few but for all, Precious Blood spirituality requires one to promote an environment of respect and care for all people. For me as a volunteer, this meant putting patients’ best interests first, either following through on patient requests or explaining to patients why I could not bring what they asked for. Beyond volunteering, Precious Blood spirituality has motivated and will motivate me to continue to respect and care for each person, as we are all equal in the eyes of God. This sense of equality for all people is clearly evident in my discussions with Precious Blood companions, a group into which I have been graciously welcomed. The companions I have met form a motivated group which helps each other to focus their efforts on furthering Precious Blood spirituality. Although I am physically leaving the companions group soon, the Precious Blood work and mission will stay with me. With Jesus’ communion and compassion as the ideal, my Precious Blood experience will assist me in putting forth my best effort to care for every person in all I do.
Michael D’Netto will finish his Precious Blood volunteering in June 2013. He plans to attend medical school in the fall of 2013.