Saturday, January 7, 2012


I guess I've always been into volunteering. During grade school I volunteered to be hall monitor, in junior high I was editor of our school newspaper, and in high school I spent many hours helping on committees; fire patrol, bulletin boards, parking monitor, as yearbook editor, etc. etc. etc. I have continued this tradition in many different ways as an adult. Volunteering is good for my soul, so to speak. I have found the type of volunteer work that is most rewarding to me is when I help others, and have always felt that if I didn't have such an aversion to blood and guts, I should have been a nurse! But then, it would have been a job and perhaps some of the joy that I get would be replaced by fatigue.

I remember back in my early 20's I volunteered at Providence Hospital in Portland, Oregon. I was one happy camper as I was able to push around a "craft cart" and go into patients rooms and teach them how do a simple project. I also had magazines on board so could share them with anyone who wanted one. What fun to combine my love for crafts with brightening someone's day, even for just a few minutes. Back then people stayed in the hospital for much longer than they do now so it was important to provide some sort of diversion in their day. Now, people are in and out so quickly that there is little need for amusement. If they are there for more than a day or two, they are probably too sick to concentrate anyway! And the knowledge about the spread of germs has definitely changed things too. We have to "foam in, foam out" whenever we enter a patient's room. That means we sterilize our hands. And that magazine cart that I used way back when wouldn't pass muster today! Germs on the cart, germs on the magazines. If a patient handled a magazine it couldn't go back on the cart because of germs! Who knew!!

I've done lots of volunteering since my 20's! I volunteer to make seasonal flower arrangements (through our garden club) at one of the local nursing homes. I have helped do craft projects at this same nursing home, as well as making personal visits to several of the patients I got to know. I also brought my dog, Frodo, with me to some of these visits. He's not a good "therapy" dog, so quit bringing him! For years I volunteered with the Reach to Recovery program with is part of the American Cancer Society. I visited newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, which I found VERY rewarding. I also trained new volunteers as well as headed up the program for South King County. I was very involved but then a strange thing happened. Ladies didn't seem to need information and visits anymore. It got so that everyone seemed to have a friend, relative or acquaintance who had dealt with breast cancer. Isn't that sad? I wasn't so busy anymore, so I decided to shift gears and find something else to do with my time.

I am one of the fortunate ones who enjoys being at the hospital. Many people are fearful about even setting foot inside the doors, but I don't view the hospital as a place of death but rather a place where people have a chance to get well. I find it a comforting place to be. I have volunteered at Valley Medical Center (which is now UW at VMC) on Wednesdays in the gift shop for a year and a half. That changed when I had the opportunity to work with the hospital chaplain. I am thrilled! I can now go and visit patients. My role is to basically sit and talk with people. Well, actually, LISTEN to people! Thursday was my first day in this new role and I LOVE it! I know this is not for everyone because it can be very depressing as you listen to people talk about their lives. And my natural tendance is to help, which in reality there isn't much I can do to help! I wish I had a magic wand to wave and make their troubles disappear. Three of the patients I visited on Thursday (I must have visited at least 20) said they had been healthy all their life and them BOOM! Heart attack, stroke, blood clot. Just like that they were thrown into a life and death situation.

What a good reminder to me that we can't take our life and good health for granted! It is sad to see that so many patients don't have a relationship with the Lord. How do they cope with these serious issues? It is my faith in God that keeps me on an even keel. When the bad times come, I know there is a reason. I may not know the reason, but I know that God does and that is enough for me. I can find peace as I trust the Lord with my life. Several of the people I visited on Thursday don't have any religious involvement and have no family or friend support. It broke my heart a bit to listen to these stories. The one thing I can do is pray. My job is an anonymous job! I am not to write down any names because of confidentiality laws. The Lord knows who they are and I can pray anonymously. I know there will always be new patients to visit each week and as time goes on I won't remember most of these folks. I'm just as happy not knowing their outcome! I can just trust that they are all getting better and will be released back home.

What do you do with your extra time? You might want to spend some time thinking about your giftedness and what gives you pleasure and try sharing that as a volunteer. Of course, when I was young and had children at home, I was busy enough caring for my family and felt that was plenty! Now I'm footloose and fancy free. How can you serve God and your community??

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