October 12, 2021
South Zone paramedics Tamara Hunt and Kristine Zentner, at right, helped to create a special ‘final trip’ memory for their patient Mary Volk and her family, as they transported her from home to end-of-life care recently in Medicine Hat.
Story by Kelly Morris | Photo by Lisa Miklash
Even on her ‘final trip’ to end-of-life care, Mary Volk enjoyed a precious gift — a chance to make a truly magical memory — thanks to the compassion of staff with Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) South Zone EMS.
When paramedics Tamara Hunt and Kristine Zentner got the call on Sept. 17 to take Volk from her home to receive palliative care at St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged — a type of patient transfer often referred to as a ‘final trip’ — the pair knew they wanted to make the ride special for her.
“I’ve been in this job for 16 years,” says Hunt, who assisted that day. “I believe that the final trip is a very important one — and I have always been the type of person to ask them if they have anywhere in the city that means something to them, that they want to see before we go.”
At first, Volk said no, because she didn’t want to be any trouble for the pair.
But her family suggested they might stop by Medalta, Medicine Hat’s historic ceramics museum and arts facility, where Volk could reminisce about her youthful days working there before getting married.
So Zentner drove to Medalta, followed by a few family members, where Hunt spotted some employees outside. After sharing with them the reason why an ambulance had arrived and the nature of their visit, Hunt asked if there was any way they could sneak inside for even a minute.
“Well, that turned into a whole private tour,” adds Hunt. “The people at Medalta were unreal, so full of compassion. There were tears at the end of it.”
Hunt, Zentner and their supervisor Dean Senkiw all believe that the final trip should be something memorable.
“It’s not the first time I’ve done it and it won’t be the last,” says Hunt. “It’s something to make the trip for them. Something that impacts their life the best we can during their last moments. It’s very patient- and family-centred care.”
Zentner adds: “(It’s) just giving that person a little more dignity. A little more say in how their care goes. Or normalcy in a not-normal time. We let them know they’re important to us. Every patient is important.”
On similar trips — whether it’s buying ice cream, impromptu photo shoots or simply opening the ambulance doors to take in a view of nature’s splendor — the South Zone EMS team aims to live and breathe the AHS values of patient-focused care.
“Mary deserved everything that we had for her,” says Zentner. “When you’re with a patient, they’re the most important patient at that time.”
Unfortunately, there isn’t always the time or opportunity to add something special during these trips, but when such beautiful moments happen, they move healthcare workers as well as families.
“It’s not about us. It’s not about me when I do it,” says Hunt. “But when we have a memorable moment like that, it’s something you never forget.”
Senkiw adds: “We should all be striving to do this kind of thing. It’s part of our mission at AHS to be patient-focused — and I’m very proud of our team.”