Towne Salute: Susan Piggott & Michael Tooke of Talbot Hospice
Aug 23, 2017 02:15PM ● Published by Caley Breese
The idea of volunteering in a hospice house may make many people feel saddened or distraught. However, husband and wife Michael Tooke and Susan Piggott are here to tell you that is not the case, and that their time volunteering at Talbot Hospice in Easton has been a joy for both of them.
“If I could get across one thing, it’s that volunteering at hospice is very joyful work,” Piggott says with a smile. “People think, ‘I could never do that!’ But you think of it [as] you’re trying to make someone as happy and as comfortable as you can.”
Before moving from Washington, D.C., about 15 years ago, Piggott worked as a school principal and Tooke worked as a physician, specializing in internal medicine. Tooke had taken a job at UM Shore Regional Health as chief medical officer, which brought them over to the Eastern Shore. Both retired in 2013. Then, approximately five years ago, the dynamic duo began volunteering with Talbot Hospice.
“I really wanted to do something different,” Piggott explains. “I wanted to learn something new that I didn’t know much about. And Talbot Hospice had a wonderful reputation.”
Piggott has served many different roles at Talbot Hospice. From being on the Board of Directors to simply rearranging flowers in a patient’s room, every position is important and she helps out where she’s needed. Currently, she volunteers in patient care and she is also an End-of-Life Doula, a specially-trained volunteer who helps patients and their families in approximately the last 48 hours of life, whether it’s providing emotional support or recognizing the symptoms and signs of the dying process.
“They’re willing to go out and stay until someone dies or even stay there for several hours after to just be with the family while you’re waiting, maybe if the funeral home is coming,” Piggott explains. “It just calms the atmosphere down. It’s a wonderful volunteer job. And that particular job takes special training to do, but it really is a wonderful experience for families and also the doulas themselves.”
Tooke elaborates on the End-of-Life Doula volunteer.
“Another aspect of the doula program is that we don’t ever want anybody to die alone because some people don’t have family. They may be in one of the facilities around here, and we’ll have a doula just sit in the room with them,” he explains. “Even though it may not seem that they’re aware that somebody’s there, we have a sense that they do. We don’t like for people to die alone.”
For Tooke, his role at Talbot Hospice is medical director. Some of the work he does is to write prescriptions and oversee the medications that the patients receive, as well as monitor a patient’s changing conditions. Tooke also works with patients’ personal physicians in order to determine his or her life expectancy.
“The medical director is part of a team. This is not a medical-model; it’s really a model of helping patients achieve their goals,” Tooke clarifies. “It’s very much a team approach. Sometimes the doctor is the most important, sometimes the chaplain is the most important, and sometimes some of our volunteers who have done this for so many years are the most important because they get to know the patients even better.”
Piggott and Tooke underscored the strength of the team environment Talbot Hospice provides, and that no role, whether a volunteer or a physician, is more important than another.
“There’s this team that we talk about, all of these people who go out to homes or go to nursing homes or wherever the patient lives or maybe see the patient here. They’re all equal in terms of their contribution. If there’s a physician at the table, if there’s also a volunteer at the table, or a nurse or a home-health aide and a chaplain or a social worker—everybody knows the patient in a different way,” Piggott describes. “Everybody’s voice is just as important as everybody else’s at the table. It’s equal.”
Whether they’re helping out by answering phones or facilitating a prescription for a patient, Piggott and Tooke’s volunteerism at Talbot Hospice is very admirable and it’s obvious how much they enjoy it.
“It’s very creative and very joyful. It touches your heart certainly because you get attached to these patients and their families. But it just seems like you’re doing something so important,” Piggott smiles. “There’s never a time that I come here to volunteer that I don’t feel like I really made a difference today. I made a lot of people feel better.”
For more information on Talbot Hospice, visit talbothospice.org