Mike Xue is a palliative care visitor at St. Peter’s Hospital
Favourite colour: blue/ book: Kite Runner/ vacation spot: Bora Bora (one day)/music: whatever’s on the radio/ animal: dogs/ food: anything and everything/ holiday: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
What made you start volunteering at St. Peter’s Hospital?
I started volunteering at St. Peter’s largely because of the relationship I had with my grandparents. They were always so happy when I visited them during summers. This became especially important to me when my grandfather passed away and my grandmother’s health began to deteriorate. No matter what condition she was in, she would always feel much better when I spent time with her. Having people around you that care about you makes a world of difference. I wanted to bring that to palliative care patients at St. Peter’s.
Describe the most challenging parts of your volunteer work.
The most challenging aspect of volunteering in palliative care for me has been dealing with the loss of someone you’ve developed a close bond with. The first time I experienced that was the most difficult. I had been visiting someone for a couple of months and we’d spend an hour or two together each week, walking around the backyard or chatting in front of the TV. Then over a couple of weeks, I saw that his situation was worsening. Soon he wasn’t able to get out of bed to come for a walk with me. On the last day that I saw him his family was gathered around. Three or four people were standing there. A little girl was crying and a man was saying “don’t worry, grandpa’s going to be okay.” It was obvious he wouldn’t be and accepting that was hard. It was bound to happen but I never expected to be affected so heavily when the time came.
This was eye opening as it didn’t occur to me how important the small things I had done were to her.
What is one thing you wish patients knew about you?
I wish that patients knew that I enjoyed being there with them. A lot of the times I get comments from them like “I don’t want to waste your time,” and “sure if that doesn’t bother you.” The truth is I enjoy my time volunteering and wouldn’t be there helping them if I didn’t want to be.
When you tell people what you do as a volunteer, how do they usually react?
The initial reaction is usually, “that sounds sad.” In truth, it can be quite sad sometimes. But when it comes down to it you just have to think about the good you’ve done. You were able to be there for someone during their most vulnerable times.
Tell us about your most gratifying experience at HHS.
Last year I was visiting a patient that really loved coffee. Of course it made a lot of sense that I would bring her a coffee right? So that’s what I did for a couple of months. We’d chit chat for a bit while she drank her coffee. Then one day I mentioned to her that I was hungry and she told me she had these chocolate bars in her bag. I refused but she would not let me leave without taking a few. She explained how grateful she was for the things I had done for her and she wanted to do something for me in turn. This was eye opening as it didn’t occur to me how important the small things I had done were to her.
I still have one of the chocolate bars she gave me sitting in my pencil holder. I ate one of them as soon as she gave it to me and kept the other for later. The next week when I went to visit her, she was gone. I keep that chocolate bar as a reminder that the small things you do for others can make a big impact.
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