How One Hospice Volunteer Formed a Connection Deeper Than Words

As Fairview volunteer Hannah Drazenovich prepared to enter her first hospice patient’s room, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Hannah had volunteered in hospitals before, but never in hospice. On top of that, her patient, Doris*, was nonverbal, and Hannah didn’t know how they would interact.

Hannah stood in the doorway, reflecting back on the training she had received through Fairview Home Care & Hospice’s Summer Medical Explorers program. Swallowing her doubts, she walked in with a smile and introduced herself to Doris.

As expected, she received no response other than a friendly gaze. Doris had been scheduled for weekly hand massages, so Hannah proceeded to take her hands into her own and talk her through the massage process. Again, no response.

Hannah continued to tell Doris about herself—that she was a pre-med student at St. Thomas and hoped to one day practice family medicine. When she was finished, she thanked Doris for the time they spent together and left.

Learning through service

Hannah was connected with Doris through the Summer Medical Explorers program. Each year from mid-June to mid-August, Fairview Hospice offers the program to college students interested in pursuing a career in the medical field. Participants attend weekly in-service trainings as an educational cohort and volunteer at least eight hours each week.

Throughout Hannah’s time in the program, her weekly visits with Doris were always the same. She would introduce herself, massage Doris’ hands as she talked to her about current events, thank her for her time, then leave.

However, during their seventh week together, something extraordinary happened.

Hannah walked into Doris’ room as normal, introduced herself and sat down to begin the hand massage.

Before she could begin, Doris turned her head toward Hannah, grasped her hand, and began to gently move her thumb on Hannah’s palm, just like the hand massages Hannah had been giving her for the past six weeks. Doris was reaching out; she was showing Hannah that they had connected.

“I was shocked,” says Hannah. “I had volunteered with her for seven weeks and, without even realizing it, I had been building a relationship founded entirely on nonverbal contact.”

A new sense of compassion 

Hannah credits Fairview’s Summer Medical Explorers program for helping her develop a deeper sense of understanding and empathy for those she serves.

“It made me recognize the humanity in my patient,” says Hannah. “I was given the privilege of interacting with someone who had decades of life, experience, memories and relationships. This was a realization that I would never have had if it weren’t for the program.”

For more information about volunteering for Fairview Home Care & Hospice or participating in this year’s Summer Medical Explorers program, click here. The program accepts up to 20 participants each year. Application deadline is May 24. 

*This name has been changed for privacy reasons.

Related Articles