She was sitting propped up in bed in one of the sun-filled corner rooms at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House. I saw that she had thick, dark hair with a few streaks of silver through it, noticeable because so often our patients have little or no hair after undergoing chemotherapy. She told me she had been living in New Mexico before being diagnosed with cancer but had decided to come back to Austin to die, as she had decided to forgo any treatment except palliative care. She had some friends in Austin and had attended UT years ago, so there was a connection here. We chatted about New Mexico and about artists and about her own art. By the end of my shift I felt we had bonded, and I promised to visit her the following week.
She felt good enough the next week to walk outdoors, so she gathered up her Foley’s catheter, and we wandered the walkways of Christopher House. She told me she was moving to a local nursing home.
The next time I saw her, she was in a cramped room behind a curtain, separating her from her very noisy roommate, and the only window was on the roommate’s side. In the days which followed, we got outside as often as possible to enjoy the sunshine, as she still had the strength to walk.
We worked on a couple of art projects together, and she volunteered to make me a necklace if I brought her some beads. She was eating very little by now and looking noticeably thinner, but on occasion she would ask me to bring her soup or a Limeade. I met a few of her friends, and we discussed how to get her moved to a private room with a window. After three weeks, a private room became available, and we moved her few possessions down the hall, rejoicing in the sunlight from her new window. We hung a few pictures on the bare walls and did our best to make the room more welcoming. By this time she was on heavy doses of pain meds and sleeping most of the time.
At the end of her life I spent the night on an air mattress on the floor beside her bed, singing and talking softly. My new friend had a profound and enriching effect on my life, and I hope in some small way I helped with her transition.
Hospice Austin Volunteer