Discovering Values Of Life in Death
Discovering Values Of Life in Death
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  • 승인 2003.05.07 00:00
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"Hospice" may be an unfamiliar term to many people, or they may have only a general idea, like "hospices take care of people who are dying from cancer." Actually, a hospice is not just a place but also a concept that covers both the terminally-ill patient and the family, and whose goal is to provide care to improve the quality of a patient"s last days by offering comfort and dignity. As hospice volunteers take care of terminally-ill patients, death is an unavoidable matter. Therefore this kind of work it is somewhat different from other volunteering jobs.

Suh Kyung-ae, a hospice volunteer at Ewha Womans University"s Mokdong Hospital, is a veteran who has looked after more than 20 terminal cancer patients. Suh had dreams of owning a small bakery, but she postponed it for a while. She does not regret the time spent so far, and is rather glad that she has been able to do something for others.

It could not have been an easy decision for an ordinary woman like Suh to go to work for a hospice. But it might have been destiny. "I was interested in social welfare service and was looking for ways to help other people. I believe that I was led to such a direction," says Suh.

In the autumn of 2001, just when she quit her job, an advertisement about hospice education caught her eyes. Suh completed the 10th hospice education course at the Department of Nursing Science in Ewha. That was the start of her career as a hospice volunteer.

Unlike what other people think, what hospice volunteers do is not limited to psychological treatment like talking to patients or listening to their anguish and fear of death, but also includes physical care. Since the patients are in bed for many long hours, they need massages, and as most of them are not able to walk freely due to sickness, mostly cancer, it is a hospice volunteer"s job to help them. Unlike nurses, who have more extensive professional education, hospice volunteers work without being paid.

Most volunteers work for a fairly short time, three hours a week in Suh"s case. But that does not mean that it is easy work. The biggest hardship that hospice volunteers go through is the feeling of despair that comes from working with people who are terminally ill. Having to listen to what patients have to say or the physial tiredness of the job are nothing compared to the emotions caused by the death of a patient. As Suh puts it, "The stress that comes from death is indescribable. Most people I take care of are sentenced to live no longer than two months, so I see them getting worse every week. When a person who was smiling and talking with me just a week ago is no longer there the next week, the feeling of loss and blankness breaks my heart. I do not regret doing volunteer work for the hospice, but if I did, it would be because it hurts so much, because it is too painful to see people pass away."

Nonetheless, Suh is philosophical about her work. "The volunteer work made me realize the significance of life. When I walk in the park, even a small sprout is so valuable," she says. She has also come to be more accepting of death. "Most people do not think about death, as if it does not have any connection with them. But as I see young people die from cancer, I realize that death can come to anyone. It"s unavoidable, though we wish to evade it."

Suh believes that the brighter the mind, the better the care she can give to her patients. She spends the rest of the days when she is not at the hospital at theaters, parks or ancient palaces like Changgyeonggung. And she dreams of a brighter future for the hospice system.

"Someday in the near future, the government has to start supervising the hospice system through legislation. Previously, our country was busy only with economic development, but now that we have enough to eat, we should be more concerned about social welfare. If we are to become a highly developed country, shouldn"t we be able to move in that direction?" says Suh.

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