Local hospice seeks caring volunteers


Saturday, March 29
POWNAL — It's a brisk mid-March day in the Pownal countryside. The wind whips through the hills. A horse saunters disinterestedly in the background.

Eighty-six-year-old Esther Lindwall is able to inhabit this small corner of Vermont thanks to the help of healthcare workers, including hospice workers, as she is afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease).

Lindwall, herself a former registered nurse, was diagnosed with the progressive disease 10 years ago, and has been under hospice care for four years. She has three hospice volunteers that visit her weekly, and says she feels much better on the days they come.

"Definitely," said Lindwall when asked if the volunteers have a positive effect on her spirits. "On Saturday and Sunday, I don't have anyone coming, and it's hard getting up in the morning."

Lindwall said it was even harder to do the exercises to slow the progression of her disease on those days.

"It's harder, but I'm now 86 years old, so I've earned it," Lindwall said. "Thankfully, I have facilities that other people my age might not have."

Lindwall praised the work that the workers do, saying that she warmed to her volunteers very quickly.

"I'm a people person, and they come ready," Lindwall said. "They know how to approach a person and make them comfortable."

Nancy Bower, one of Lindwall's volunteers, said that the work performed by hospice workers can take many forms, including running errands for the patient or even playing games with him or her. Lindwall, thanks to Bower's influence, is now an ardent cribbage player.

"She meets me at the door with her cards, and I bring my cribbage board," Bower said. "I've actually suggested as part of the training that we offer a game-playing in-service — there are other people who enjoy these games."

Some hospice volunteers even sing for patients. Bower said she was part of a 12-member singing group.

"The hospice now has a group of bedside singers, called the Serenity Singers," Bower said. "We go to people's homes, or occasionally nursing homes and sing for them."

"Esther was the first person we sang to," Bower added.

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Bower said such groups have been springing up throughout the state.

"It originally came out of Brattleboro, and now it's an all-over-Vermont thing," Bower said.

Jack O'Keefe, who also works with Lindwall, said his wife was cared for by hospice workers when she became ill.

"(Nancy) came over and did such things as read magazines to her," O'Keefe said. "They were kind enough to come in when I had things to do."

O'Keefe said the workers provided a welcome respite from the around-the-clock duties of caring for a loved one.

"Usually, I got a half-hour a day off at most — I was there about 24 hours a day," O'Keefe said. "Whenever they came in to change beds, I got a chance to get out and do shopping and things like that."

O'Keefe said he greatly enjoyed his current role.

"I'm sad I only come one day out of the week," O'Keefe said.

The Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Southwestern Vermont Health Care is currently seeking volunteers to become hospice workers. Those interested will undergo a nine-week training program. People who take the training are not obligated to become workers, VNA officials stress.

"They cover a lot of territory," said O'Keefe. "They have such things as speakers and videos to help you."

Bower also said the training was a valuable thing.

"They go over the ways different diseases progress," Bower said. "They also tell you about the importance of confidentiality, the beliefs of different religions and the process of dying."

Bower also said that volunteers could determine their own level of involvement.

Those interested in volunteering can contact the VNA and Hospice at (802) 442-5502, extension 4567.


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