Moments from volunteering

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Moments from volunteering

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One Thursday morning in June 2012, I woke up around 7:55 a.m., which was five minutes before I was supposed to report to Shawnee Mission Medical Center for my very first day on the job. It was my first day volunteering in the Intensive Care Unit, and I was terrified. The fact that I would now be late only added to the stress.

“So much for a good first impression,” I thought.

Arriving about an hour late, I reluctantly walked into the elevator and pressed the button to take me to floor six. Eventually, the doors would open and I’d have to walk out into the unpredictable ICU.

I stepped out into a typical hospital lobby. It was as neat as a pin with clean marble floors and little coffee tables perfectly situated between a few chairs. I approached the front desk to meet my supervisor, who, to my relief, didn’t even realize I was late. She gave me a tour of the unit and showed me some of the basic tasks volunteers do.

That summer spent volunteering in the ICU was definitely an eye opener. Although I didn’t interact with patients, I saw a lot of the tasks that go on behind the scenes in a hospital. I spent that summer stocking linens, organizing drawers, and basically being a back-up janitor, which was fine with me. Although I wanted to interact with the patients, it scared me to death, so I convinced myself I was satisfied with staying in the background.

It wasn’t until the following summer that volunteering in the hospital really started learning. I wasn’t only learning medical terminology, but how to genuinely interact with patients.

Last summer I spent volunteering in the Day Surgery Center. This job required me to escort patients by wheelchair to their cars after their surgery. This was a huge step up from my last job, and I didn’t think I was qualified.

I’ll never forget that first month of discharging patients. There were so many times I messed up, such as misguiding the wheelchair, which I did more often than I’d like to admit. One day I accidently closed the elevator door on a woman’s wheelchair. It was absolutely mortifying, but again to my relief, we laughed about it.

The meaningful conversations that resulted from the five minutes it took to transport the patient from the hospital bed to the car were some I’ll always cherish. They gave me the confidence I needed to take on my next assignment.

Last fall was spent volunteering in the Cancer Unit. This job required me to enter each patient’s hospital room, empty their trash, linens, and get them anything else they needed. I still recall the feeling of my heart skipping a beat when my supervisor handed me a list of 15 different patients I had to visit that day. Why was I so nervous? Is this patient interaction not what I wanted all along?

There was one word that kept nagging at me: adolescent. What were these patients going to think when they saw a kid walk through their door to serve them? Once I could muster up enough courage to enter the room, the feeling was great. That feeling of accomplishment as well as getting to work with the patients is what gave me the courage to enter the next room, and the one after that.

Volunteering with people taught me a lot, but there are two things I’d like to stress. The first is that it’s OK to make mistakes; everyone does. Making mistakes is vital to the learning process, and they can make some pretty funny stories as well. The second is that being young has nothing to do with what you can do for people. Young people can be incredibly influential and shouldn’t doubt the impact they could have on someone’s life.

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