A British man, out for a stroll, stopped in Inyo County this week to spread his message about the benefits of Hospice.
Colin Skinner of Deal, England has been traversing the United States and stopping at Hospices along the way, collecting donations for the organizations and leaving in his wake smiles and good cheer.
This is Skinner’s second trek across America for Hospice; his first took place in 1988-89. Skinner has also walked across Britain twice, clocking in more than 12,000 miles of walking for the cause.
Hospice is an organization of healthcare professionals who help terminal patients make the most of their final days, Skinner said. Hospice offers a variety of services, from providing respite care for caregivers to running errands for patients and caregivers to lending a hand wherever it is needed, holding a hand or just listening.
Skinner had a huge compliment for Hospice of the Owens Valley, explaining that the local organization is the only all-volunteer and donation-funded Hospice he had encountered in the States.
According to Skinner, he was inspired to take the first trek following a job as an orderly in a hospital in England. He said he was moved by how many patients did not receive the loving and nurturing side of healing that comes from loved ones and family. He said he decided to take it upon himself to spread the word of Hospice.
This time, he said he’s walking in memory of his mother who suddenly died of cancer last year.
Skinner explained that Hospice is not about medically treating people at the end of their days, but trying to make the patients comfortable and helping relieve any stresses or strains.
Skinner said one Hospice patient he met told him that having Hospice around made her feel like she wasn’t sick anymore.
Taking advantage of what Hospice has to offer is best “earlier instead of later,” Skinner said. He added that he has known of patients that have lived for years longer than expected primarily due to the assistance Hospice gives.
There can be a stigma associated with Hospice, as some patients see Hospice as the final step before death, but that is not always the case, he explained.
Skinner reiterated several times that Hospice is about giving people the “best quality of life they can have.”
He said since his latest adventure that started in September, he has met many patients, visiting about 160 Hospices in America.
He said seeing the smiles of Hospice patients – one 80-year-old World War II veteran who shouldered Skinner’s 50-pound backpack and walked around the hospital room – is what keeps him going.
And the going is not always easy, but Skinner has been lucky enough not to be treated too harshly on the open road. Skinner said he doesn’t hitchhike or accept rides, except for one 40-mile stretch of highway that turned into a freeway and he had to get a ride around the freeway.
Skinner has only had to spend five days out of 130 in a tent, almost always getting a place to stay. His first trek in 1989 was not so well funded and Skinner said he found himself with nearly no money and once in Death Valley with no water. Skinner said the day he had no money he found $200 on the side of the road, and the day he had no water, he found an unopened bottle first thing in the morning and was given fresh fruit but several passersby.
This year trekking through Death Valley, he found an iPod with 600 songs, just sitting on the side of the road.
“I got to listen to Jimi Hendrix while walking through Death Valley,” Skinner said, calling it “very cool.”
“I’ve always had a sense of being taken care of,” Skinner said.
His toughest stretch so far was 38 miles in a snowstorm in Idaho with just a bit of elk jerky. “We’ll have to see what Tioga has to offer.”
Tioga Pass closed the day of the interview and weather forecasts predicted snow is on the way, but it could not be determined how far south the storm will hit.
With Skinner’s luck, it’ll blow right past him.
Skinner is a molecular biologist, married with children.
To learn more about Hospice, go to www.hospiceinternational.org , more about Skinner can be found at hospiceinternational.org/colin or at many websites devoted to him or his journey.
To learn more about or to donate to Hospice of the Owens Valley, call (760) 873-3742.