Isabel Hendrixson: A Caring Presence in the Final Moments
Seven years ago, Isabel Hendrixson was asked to volunteer for a job she thought she couldn’t possibly do.
For almost two decades, the 74-year-old has volunteered at local hospitals, greeting and directing patients, families, and visitors at the information desk, working at the gift shop, and helping coordinate hospital events. Yet when she was recruited for the No One Dies Alone program, the Wilmington resident felt unqualified.
An international program initiated by a nurse in Eugene, Ore., in 2001, and introduced at Christiana Care in 2010, NODA ensures that dying patients without loved ones close by do not die alone. These are patients who have out-lived loved ones or whose families and friends are geographically or emotionally distant and are unable or unwilling to be present. Most have 24-48 hours to live.
Hendrixson says that, at first, she wondered if her words and her touch would truly bring peace to the person. But time and again, when she entered the hospital room, something in her lit up and the doubts vanished.
“When you walk into that room, you’re a different person,” she says. “It’s no longer about you, but about the patient. You become very strong and you devote yourself to helping that person move on and be at peace.”
Although the patients are sedated, she learned during her three hours of training that hearing and touch are the last senses to go. From a bag provided by the hospital, she pulls out soothing CDs, and poetry and spiritual books to read, and she holds the patient’s hand.
In a journal that is available to family and friends, Hendrixson makes a record of her two-hour vigil, including any details about how the patient died, if that should happen during her shift.
Since joining the program, she has assisted more than 15 NODA patients. The youngest was in her teens, the oldest in his 90s.
Between one and three NODA patients die per month at Christiana Care, where there are 15 vigil volunteers, according to Margarita Rodriguez-Duffy, director of Visitor and Volunteer Services. “These extraordinary volunteers consider it a privilege to provide death with dignity to our patients,” says Rodriguez-Duffy.
Last October, Hendrixson, who retired from DuPont in 2002, received the Wilmington Award for her volunteer services at the former Riverside Hospital on Lea Boulevard, Wilmington Hospital and Christiana Care.
She says that although being part of NODA can be heart-wrenching, it’s also soul-filling. Every time you do something you think you can’t do, it builds your courage and confidence, making it easier to face life’s challenges, she says.
What’s more, she has learned through the program not to be afraid of death. “Death is part of life,” she says. “I’m glad I can help in some way.”