Giving back after receiving so much, said Heléne Arthur, has been the motivating force behind her decision to become a patient support volunteer at Pullman Regional Hospital.
“There is so much reward in just having people say thank you for being there,” said Heléne, who lost both her husband and son to the same debilitating disease and learned through the tragedies how important a comforting hand can be.
“I don't have any nursing background,” Heléne said. “But just putting a hand on a shoulder can help so much.”
Heléne is one of 13 patient support volunteers working at Pullman Regional Hospital and also at Avalon Care Center in Pullman. The volunteers, as Heléne explains it, do everything from lending an ear and an occasional hug, to serving coffee and sometimes even a bit of babysitting.
“Just recently, a patient came in for testing and I took his young son into another room where we colored and I gave him some crackers and juice.”
Heléne moved to Pullman from Juneau, Alaska, after working 27 years as a Business Analyst for the State of Alaska Post-secondary Education. Her husband, Earl Lewis, died in 1993 of a hereditary nervous system disease called leukodystrophy. Her son, Charlie Lewis, died of the same affliction in July of 2009.
At the time, Heléne recalled, she wanted to become a hospice volunteer because of all the comfort she received during her son's last days. But she was advised to wait, to heal, and to regain her focus before making a decision.
“I wanted to give back. But I didn't realize emotionally what I was going to go through,” she said. “So I just kind of put it out there to my higher power. I said, God, whatever you have in store for me, let me know.”
Last October, a friend told her about the Pullman Regional Hospital patient support program and that Jessica Rivers, who Heléne met during her hospice experience, was in charge and looking for more volunteers.
“I said, you know, I would love it. So I had an interview with Jessica, went through the training and I was right. I just love it. It's so rewarding. I feel like I'm giving back for all that was given to us.”
Heléne said she speaks from experience when she says both Pullman Regional Hospital and Avalon embrace the concept of comfort care and place a premium on patient well-being. She said her son lived at Avalon, but spent considerable time in the hospital as his condition became more acute.
“His last Christmas, in 2008, he was in the hospital and he said, 'Mom, if I'm going to die, I want to die at home.'” The care center had been Charlie's home for a number of years. “And so, that's when the family decided to bring in hospice,” Heléne said.
Today, Heléne said, she and the other patient support volunteers share the sorrows, but also the many joys that are intrinsic to hospitals and care centers. “Mainly what we do, we're comfort support,” she said. “We're there to be with the patient, or a loved one, or the family.”
Heléne’s experience with Pullman Regional Hospital came full circle when she was recently volunteering in the Emergency Department started having shortness of breath and chest pains. The nurses quickly identified that she needed help and she was admitted for observation. She spent one night in Med-Surg and was released with a clean bill of health. Heléne said she was very pleased with the care and it was a great benefit to see the perspective of the patient.