Wendy Smith RN, MSN discovered hospice her last year of nursing school after responding to a flier asking for hospice volunteers. “I absolutely loved it,” she recalls. “When my patients were actively dying, it didn’t matter if it was two or four in the morning, I was there with them – even though at the time I was already carrying a huge load balancing clinicals and school work. But I meant it when I told them I would walk that journey with them. I have never laughed and cried so much as I’ve done in hospice.”
Four months ago, Smith relocated to Iowa from Washington state, where aid in dying has been authorized since 2009. “It saddens me that terminal patients in Iowa do not have those same options. Having kept bedside vigil with patients that were denied end-of-life options has motivated me to advocate on their behalf. “
In January, Wendy contacted Compassion & Choices to volunteer her services. Since joining C&C, she has testified during a Senate sub-committee hearing at the Iowa State Capitol on the Iowa Death With Dignity Act, became a delegate, was appointed a position on a platform committee and interviewed with her local newspaper about the bill. She also read a resolution in support of the bill at the Iowa caucus for her precinct to thunderous applause.
Having witnessed prolonged suffering at the bedside of patients and the gruesome death of her grandmother, which Smith describes as “probably the worst death I’ve ever experienced,” she feels privileged to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of all the people she’s taken care of over the years: “Death is the white elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, yet it is inevitable. It is our responsibility as clinicians to educate our patients to include end-of-life discussions. I am very passionate about this subject simply because it’s not death that scares me, it is the dying process. I want to have the autonomy and empowerment to make my own end-of-life decisions. No one should have to suffer.”