Joan Wuertz Receives Award
For 30 Years Volunteer Service For Delaware Hospice
Joan Wuertz joined Delaware Hospice as a volunteer in 1984 with a passion for hospice care that was unusual in those early years.
Joan was a nurse in the U.K., Canada and Washington DC before retiring in Delaware. She volunteered for a cancer ward in Wilmington, where she became quite discouraged with the treatment of terminal patients.
“Visiting hours were very strict, which left patients alone when they needed to be with their loved ones. Patients were hauled away for radiation and treatments when they should have been resting. Pain medications were rigidly administered, regardless of the comfort of the patient.”
Then, while vacationing in England, Joan had the incredible opportunity to visit an uncle who happened to be a patient at the world’s first hospice—St. Christopher’s, founded by Dame Cicily Saunders. “I was amazed at what I discovered there. People could be happy. There was a tremendous amount of pain control. Dogs and children visited at all hours. There was an overwhelming sense of peace and comfort. I witnessed not only acceptance of their condition by patients, but also dignity and respect surrounding them. It was so different than what I had experienced in oncology departments in hospitals in the U.S.”
After her return to her home in Wilmington, a friend, Gloria Thornley, called, who had just become the first volunteer coordinator for the newly-founded Delaware Hospice. She asked Joan if she might be interested in volunteering, offering assistance to patients and families in the program. Joan replied, “Absolutely! Where do I sign up?”
Thirty years later, she has never tired of supporting these families during their time of need!
“Things were naturally different in 1984, when Delaware Hospice cared for a total of 10-15 patients per week.” Joan said, “Volunteers provided a great deal more care for the patients in the early years. “We often performed services which are handled by nursing assistants today, such as bathing the patient or changing bed linens. There were only a couple of nurses on staff, and they would take turns doing rotations at night. They were happy to have somebody go out with them at 2 a.m., so they would come by and pick me up to ride along with them.”
Modern technology has alleviated a few challenges faced in those first years of Delaware Hospice’s existence. Joan remembered, “We always carried change for telephone calls since there were no cell phones. Everything was documented by paper. Nurses were not permitted to make pronouncements, so often we sat with families several hours through the night until a physician could come to the house.”
Joan’s warm personality suits her volunteer role as patient/family support, and she has clearly enjoyed the relationships with family members. “I’ve met and become close to so many memorable people over the years through listening and sharing stories. One patient was compulsive about bathing every day. No one came on weekends, so I would go to give her a bed bath. One family’s mother was ill, so I took her two teenagers shopping for school clothes. That was an experience I’ll never forget!”
“People say, ‘We can’t thank you enough,’ but they don’t understand that we get more from them than we give. It’s wonderful to feel that you were useful. You think more about your own life, count your blessings and appreciate what you have.”
Learn more about volunteer opportunities at Delaware Hospice or about its care programs for seriously-ill patients and their families by calling 800-838-9800 or visiting: www.delawarehospice.org.
About Delaware Hospice
Since 1982, Delaware Hospice has provided exceptional care and support to 46,000 patients and their families. Its mission is to help each patient, each day, live the fullest, most comfortable life possible. Delaware Hospice is the largest and only licensed, nonprofit, community-based hospice serving Delaware and southern Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania. Delaware Hospice is honored to be accredited by the Joint Commission, the nation’s leading health care standards-setting and accrediting organization. For more information about Delaware Hospice’s programs and services, upcoming events, or employment opportunities, call 800-838-9800 or visit our website, www.delawarehospice.org/get-help-now/resources/end-of-life-planning.
Story and photo by Beverly Crowl