published in the Davis Enterprise on May 20, 2012
In 2010, Judy Ortiz was diagnosed with a potentially cancerous brain tumor. Ortiz required four months of treatment to improve her health prior to surgery. She had four months to worry, contemplate her mortality, and prioritize her end-of-life goals.
[pullquote2 quotes=”true” align=”right” cite=”Judy Ortiz”]You find out what’s important in life at a time like that, for me, the answer was definitely people.[/pullquote2]
“You find out what’s important in life at a time like that,” said Ortiz. “For me, the answer was definitely people.”
Fortunately, Ortiz’s tumor was operable and benign (not cancerous). She is healthy again despite some fairly serious side effects from the surgery, which she has worked tirelessly to improve. The traumatic experience has left her changed.
Ortiz is an optimist, perhaps more now than ever. She’s also determined to do all she can including volunteering for the “people” and relationships she values. A newspaper article about Yolo Hospice Patient Care Volunteers grabbed her attention. Patient Care Volunteers do exactly as she hoped to do. They help others and build relationships with them. In addition, Ortiz felt she could relate to and comfort people going through what she thought she might be facing – a life-limiting illness.
Since January 2011 when Ortiz completed the Patient Care Volunteer training, she has been matched with seven different patients. Much of her time with patients has been different than she expected, some of it more inspiring than she imagined.
Her first two patients had dementia. They did not verbally communicate with Ortiz though they did show pleasure and awareness of her presence. She sat at their bedside, held a hand, read a book or talked. Ortiz’s third patient was dying of cancer. Although able, he was uninterested in talking. Instead, Ortiz gave his caregiver respite so she could run errands, leave the house and disengage for a while. When the caregiver returned, she and Ortiz would talk.
“With my first three patients, it turned out I wasn’t there to do anything more than be with them,” said Ortiz. “In all three cases, it was the family members who I companioned. They needed someone to talk to, to share their fears and frustrations. Providing that outlet and being a friend to them was every bit as rewarding as visiting the patients.”
Ortiz’s relationship with her fourth patient was vastly different. He greeted her the first time she went to the house by saying, “Judy, welcome to the family.” Ortiz believes he was not afraid to die. She says he had “talks with God” which he shared with her. He was very appreciative of the life he had and the good children he raised, according to Ortiz.
[pullquote2 quotes=”true” align=”left” cite=”Judy Ortiz”]You learn something from every patient. I can’t begin to tell you everything I learned from him. It was great to be part of his life. I was lucky to have been matched with him.[/pullquote2]
“You learn something from every patient,” said Ortiz. “I can’t begin to tell you everything I learned from him. It was great to be part of his life. I was lucky to have been matched with him.”
She visited with this patient for three months before he died. It is apparent in talking to Ortiz that the ability to connect and build these relationships with her patients and their loved ones has been deeply gratifying and rewarding. That’s why the last few months have been frustrating for her.
“I’ve been matched with three other patients since,” said Ortiz. “All three died before I could get to their homes to meet them.” She looks forward to another assignment and the opportunity to build a relationship with the patient and loved ones.
Yolo Hospice cares for the whole person, mind, body and spirit. That is why in addition to Patient Care Volunteers, each patient has access to a team of trained professionals through Yolo Hospice. The team consists of Registered Nurses, Social Workers, Spiritual Care Counselors, Hospice Aids and Bereavement Specialists.
“We do serve many patients who are referred to us with only days remaining,” said Jody Norton, RN, HPCN, and Yolo Hospice Director of Patient Services. “Late in the disease process, when the loss of the patient is imminent, it is impossible to do more for the patient than work quickly and diligently to bring physical comfort. This can be hard for the family, we are new to them. There is no time to build a trusting relationship. When the team can support the patient early, the patient and their loved ones can receive greater depth and breadth of support emotionally, spiritually and physically.”
Yolo Hospice recommends you call as soon as you know curative treatment isn’t working, the patient has decided to forgo further treatment, or the patient’s health is failing. Calling does not obligate you to hospice care. You will speak to an expert to discuss your situation, answer questions and explain hospice care.