Male Hospice volunteers challenge notion that women are more natural caregivers

Published 3:12 pm Thursday, April 22, 2010

Many of us have accepted the premise that men are from Mars and women from Venus, suggesting that women are the more natural caregivers.

Not always. A group of men who serve as patient companion volunteers for Hospice of the Carolina Foothills (HoCF), challenge that notion.

Hugh Youngers, a retired steel executive, is a good example of the volunteers who provide companionship for male patients who prefer the camaraderie of another man. Its great for me and the patients. We spend most of our time talking, he explains, referring to the five men he has worked with so far, both at home and in nursing facilities. For the patients at home, it gives a little time away to their family members to go to the hairdresser or just enjoy a rest, he says. A typical home visit lasts from one to three hours.

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My current patient and I have become good friends to the point that we look forward to seeing each other, he says. He has a great attitude. The patient has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and does not have use of his arms or legs so Younger started out operating the computer for him. Together they browsed ALS websites that offered descriptions of adaptive communication devices that the patient felt he could use. They made numerous calls to ALS organizations and, eventually ordered a device that allows the patient to use a visor sensor, or head mouse, to control the computer. Because he is so intelligent and computer literate, he has worked out an alphabet and now he writes and sends his own email. It is very rewarding to do something so life enhancing for people who are nearing the end of their lives, he explains.

Youngers chuckles as he recalls his first patient, a nursing home resident, who enlisted his help inescaping from the facility. At the memorial service, he was able to provide some humor for the mans wife by regaling her with tales of their elaborate, albeit imaginary, plots and plans for escape.

John Flynn, another Hospice volunteer delivers supplies to nursing homes and also serves as a patient companion to men at HoCFs Smith Phayer House in Landrum. You dont have to do grand tasks; even the smallest thing is appreciated. Just listen, smile, and provide companionship, he explains. Dont worry about whether you have the skills, he insists. HoCF provides ample training to prepare volunteers how to best serve patients.

Flynn says that there is nothing gloomy about working with Hospice patients. In fact, it has brought home to him that death is a natural part of life; as natural as birth. Being a Hospice volunteer has taught me that there is a beauty to death and dying, Flynn says.

Anyone from Mars or Venus wishing to join Hugh Youngers, John Flynn, Wren Barnett, Creighton Brown, Isaac Bryant, Calvin Carson, Bill Cline, Ron Crawley, Ted Ernst, John Filipovicz, Jim Johnston, Joe Juett, Bill Kemp, Bob McDaniel, Mike McEntee, Craig McSwain, David Pschirer, Dallas Seiler, Gordon Snite, or Gene Wyckoff as a Hospice volunteer may contact Volunteer Coordinator Tracey Brannon at 828-894-7000, or by email at