Sunday, September 26, 2010


Suzy Housecoat... IN HER OWN WORDS

My first volunteer job was with the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program. It is a program that has breast cancer survivors visit with newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. It used to be a much bigger program, but through time, hospitals have been getting better at dealing with this sort of thing and now most of them have their own support groups and the like.

Suzy.... beauty, brains and a big heart

Over the past couple of years I've had very few calls. The ACS does a recertification workshop for us every year and that's always nice because we get together and talk about breast cancer issues, but as a volunteer opportunity, it's been pretty disappointing.

Next, I got involved in volunteering at a local hospital in May of 2009. I worked in their Heart and Vascular building with 4-5 others. We discharge patients, take specimens to the lab and run any other errands that are needed. Every once in a while, it can get very busy or even a bit dramatic, helping people get to the ER or even having emotional conversations with people leaving the hospital who have just gotten very bad news about tests that are done.

I really like the people I worked with who range in age from 50-87. The 87 year old is an amazing man - still very active and clear as a bell - great sense of humor too. The hospital auxiliary is instrumental in raising money for the hospital and has made huge contributions. This is the biggest hospital in the northern part of my state. They really depend so much on their volunteers.

And finally, in May 2010, I began to volunteer for a hospice program in the next state. There were a series of training workshops first, which I found very interesting and helpful. I was assigned to an elderly woman who is in an assisted care facility. Actually, she is receiving total care, at this point. She has 2 daughters in their 50s - one lives up north and tries to come and visit when she can, but she works full time and it is difficult. The other daughter has MS and is in a wheelchair. My patient lived with the daughter who has MS.

The daughter runs a business from her home and her mother helped her with the business and prepared meals, etc. The mother had been absolutely fine until having a sudden massive heart attack in April. She was hospitalized, in a coma, on a respirator and they thought she wouldn't make it, but she did and came off the respirator. She's not the same as she was, is bedridden and has short term memory problems. But she knows what's going on and is very depressed and worried about her daughter and her own health problems.

She has progressive gangrene of her feet due to circulatory difficulties, little appetite and is fading away. She is so sad and cries every time I visit. I see her every week and call her daughter after my visit. I act as another set of eyes for her daughters when they can't be there. My job is to visit the nursing home and be a support for her daughter as best I can. I try to get there at lunch time so I can help out with feeding her. It is a very intense and emotional situation. There are financial and insurance issues and all kinds of things they are dealing with. I feel bad for all of them.

Between the two volunteer jobs, the fact that two of my kids are living at home, caring for my parents, and taking occasional art classes, I am very busy! I can't say it wouldn't be nice to be working and earning a paycheck...but there are definite rewards to volunteering and I am very glad to be able to be of some use to the community.

So much suffering out there - so many people are dealing with awful things and going through it all alone...If there's any possibility that I can make a difference, I am glad to at least try. Not sure if all this would make a good blogging story. I am not a hero - just an ordinary person who feels good being useful. People are so appreciative of any little thing...

Editor's note:

I've known Suzy Housecoat for more than 10 years but we've only met through the words we've exchanged over the years via the internet. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and what she's gone through in life. When she tells me that I'm wrong on something, I listen, because I respect her wisdom.

She is an amateur photographer and recently began  taking painting and drawing classes, which take up much of her time. She and her husband also travel the world frequently.

Suzy is a breast cancer survivor. She has had a number of careers. Wife, mother, and registered nurse. A few years ago, she went back to school to become certified as a science teacher and taught for a few years. And now she volunteers. When I asked her if I could feature her, she was reluctant, mostly because she doesn't think she is a hero, but is just doing practical things to make a difference in this world. She inspires me. I made some changes to her story to make sure the privacy of the patients she assists are protected.

Suzy Housecoat isn't her real name. She is in the Federal Volunteer Protection Program.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


YOSHIMI OTAKE.... Combining artistry and healing

I had the opportunity to observe Yoshimi at a therapy session the other day and needless to say, she is very impressive. Yoshimi is a certified therapist with Sounding Joy Therapists, Inc., one of the four therapists there. She has been with them for 2 - 1/2 years.

A native of Japan, she had gone to Minnesota in 1999 to study music therapy. To be a certified therapist, one needs to have at least a BA in music therapy and 1200 hours of internship. Yoshimi has a BA degree in psychology and a MA in music therapy.

She has practiced music therapy in New York as well as in Japan before obtaining the position in Hawaii with Sounding Joy. Yoshimi began playing the piano when she was 2 years old so music has always been a big part of her life. She now also plays the guitar and the flute.

When I observed her, I could tell that she was accomplished on the piano, even though she was working with a 61 key synthesizer and played mostly simple children's and folk songs. Those are the types of songs that the patients in the nursing facility have connections with and they provide a good foundation for therapy because the songs puts them in their comfort zone. She was very smooth in her chord changes and deftly inserted passing chords in appropriate places to subtly give the songs more depth. I mention this to illustrate how she plays "music" rather than just playing "notes" as many do.

Many entertainers play songs that they want to play, rather than playing songs that the patients want to hear. Or, in my case, I have to play the few songs that I can play. Over and over and over, if necessary. The children's songs bring back memories of a happy time in patients' lives and that encourages them to participate in the music rather than doze off. This enables Yoshimi to work with them on a physical level, emotional level and on a mental level because the music reaches them at all those levels.

Sounding Joy was established in September 2002. In 1994, Medicare began reimbursing for music therapy services. To qualify for reimbursement, the therapy must be prescribed by a doctor, be reasonable and necessary and the patient needs to show improvement in his/her condition as a result of the therapy. Medicaid also provides reimbursements as do various private insurers.

Please visit Sounding Joy's webpage a browse the services that they offer.

Yoshimi has always had music as a part of her life and found that whenever she encountered difficulties in her life, playing music somehow comforted her and brought her peace. That motivated her to want to learn more about music and its healing powers.

And the patients she services are glad that she decided to become a music therapist. Their eyes light up  every week when they see her.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Just when I begin losing confidence in our young 'uns, I run into someone truly inspiring. Corynn is a Pearl City native who is learning to use her musical skills to help other people.

Corynn plays the piano, cello and sings. When she entered Indiana University in 1996, her course of study was in vocal performance. Needless to say, I would be embarrassed to sing or play the piano in her presence. She would likely giggle. Or maybe just plain laugh out loud. I would do the same, quite frankly, given similar circumstances.

I observed Corynn at the Hiolani Center which is a part of Kahala Nui  the other day. She was assisting Yoshimi, a musical therapist with Sounding Joy Therapy, Inc. What they do is, through a universal language like music, get the elderly to interact by banging on tambourines, bells and other percussion instruments. It engages the patient's physical, emotional and mental processes. I was very impressed.

I watched as they held the instruments out and made the patient reach out a little further each time for physical exercise. It also engaged the patient mentally because they have to recognize that they have to hit the instrument. At the same time, the patients emotionally embrace the music and their fellow patients by interacting with each other through the music.

Corynn has been a flight attendant for about 10 years. She is currently with Hawaiian Airlines, but was with Aloha when they closed their doors. That's when she decided to think about returning to school to secure a better future for herself. But she wasn't sure as to what she wanted to do for a career. It dawned on her that she enjoyed helping others as she had volunteered at her son's school for various projects. She also realized that she maintained her passion for music.

So, she took action and enrolled at Honolulu Community College in their Human Services program. Part of the requirements for obtaining her degree was to have 6 credit hours of practicum experience. She feels very fortunate to be able to volunteer at Sounding Joy Therapy because it offers her the ability to have hands-on experience with helping people, utilizing her musical skills and fulfilling her practicum requirements. While her participation is minimal at this time, she is able to do hands-on work with the patients and provide encouragement during the sessions.

Sounding Joy has a Gala to be presented  on September 12. An organization such as this needs to rely on fundraisers to continue to operate. Also, please browse through the webpage to see the work they do in using music as therapy.

Corynn's progress at school is at a slower pace because she works fulltime and can only takes classes that fit in with her flight schedule. She is in her third semester in her practicum work with Sounding Joy. Last semester, she was able to assist Sounding Joy therapists at Campbell High School and worked with students with mental or physical disabilities.

Meeting Corynn gave me some hope as a geezer that there are talented and caring young people going into the field of caring for those who cannot take care of themselves. An amazing person who will do well in her chosen career.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

End of Life Care


When a person's health is in a position where they aren't expected to live for more than 6 months, then end-of-life care comes into play. We all think of hospice care as a facility like a hospital, clinic or a home. It is, in fact, a service rather than a facility. In 90% of the cases, hospice care is provided in the individual's own home.

Under hospice care, a team of people are involved, including the doctor, nurse(s), therapists, volunteers social workers and nurses aids. When deciding on hospice care, the patient and the family has made a decision to refuse additional treatment to cure the ailment. The focus of the team is to make the patient comfortable and relieve any pain he/she may be experiencing.

A big part of the hospice service is the counseling either through faith-based by pastors or via psychologists to prepare the patient and the family members for the expected passing of the individual. And the approach differs based upon a person's cultural and religious beliefs. The Christian, who believes in redemption may seek the following (as expressed by a speaker from Hospice Hawaii): 1. I forgive you. 2. Will you forgive me? 3. Thank you. 4. I love you. 5. Goodbye. That completes the acceptance process of death for that belief system.

A person of another belief system may look at impending death as if one would be looking in a mirror, which reflects how one lived. I would guess that making a list of what the dying person contributed to society and his fellow man would help him/her accept that his/her life was good. Either way, the grief counseling helps them to complete their unfinished work in their relationships.

Someone much wiser than me once said that those facing death usually don't have regrets for what they did in life, but what they did not do. Those who have regrets generally fear death.

By far, most people who utilize hospice care have cancer, followed by end stage heart diseases, end stage liver disease, dementia, lung disease and end stage kidney disease. In many cases, the family members and loved ones are impacted to a greater degree than the one facing death. And certainly, many suffer severe disabling depressions after the death. I know of a number of people, mostly women, who suffered from PTSD as well as schizophrenia. Some can't even leave the house to go to the grocery store unless heavily medicated.

Family members or informal caregivers provide a number of functions to help. They provide companionship, assist in running errands, help in organizing medications, communicating with doctors and nurses, preparing meals, provide transportation and helping to manage the finances. Hospices are always looking for volunteers to help with these functions.

Hospice organizations are always in need of people to work in the office organizing, filing, inputting information on the computers and freeing the paid staff to do other work. Two people, Gail and Phil have been volunteering at St. Francis West for as far back as I can remember. The staff truly appreciate their services.
Phil and Gail in the lobby of St. Francis West

Two organizations in Hawaii that do a good job are St. Francis hospice and Hospice Hawaii.

Even though one of the hospice organizations listed above is a Catholic organizations, the services and spiritual counseling offered are diverse. Both my parents passed away at St. Francis Hospice's facilities and they were both members of the Buddhist faith. So there are no pre-packaged hospice services because everyone comes from a different cultural, economic and religious backgrounds.