A friend posted a wonderful Mohandas K. Gandhi quote on Facebook yesterday morning: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” It made me think of the volunteer work I do; and how fortunate I am.
Every Tuesday you can find me, in my blue lab coat, at Mt. Sinai Hospital, in downtown Toronto. With a program that includes about 1,000 volunteers, there is virtually no area of the hospital where you won’t find at least one of us.
We’re there seven days a week, even holidays. We’re men and women. Students, middle-aged and seniors. Rich and poor. Canadians and immigrants. Married, single, divorced and widowed/widowers. We have families. We have friends. And some, have no one. We’re in the pharmacies, labs, recovery rooms, waiting rooms, clinics, doctors’ offices, on every floor, in emergency, diagnostic imaging, and even at home, knitting warm hats for premature babies. We’re visiting the elderly, feeding, filing, documenting, delivering, translating, organizing, making appointments, providing information, answering questions, giving directions and, mostly, assisting — wherever, whenever and however we can.
What unites us, is why we’re there. To help others. To make strangers’ lives a little easier, a little better, a little less lonely, a little less frightening, a little less daunting; even if it’s just for a moment. And by strangers I mean patients, families and staff.
I work mainly in an out-patient surgical recovery room, where patients come for minor surgery. Typically they just need a couple of hours of recovery (maximum) and then they can go home. I cover them with warm blankets when they first come out of the O.R.. I give them snacks, track when they go in, and come out of surgery, as well the time they were admitted and discharged. I put their charts in order for filing. And I also make sure they’re okay, letting the nurses know if and when they’re feeling sick or are in pain.
When needed I also work in the main surgical waiting room, where families of patients having long, often very serious and complicated surgeries, wait for news. I let the O.R. clerk know when they’ve arrived, so doctors know to call when the surgery is over, and Recovery can let us know when the family can visit. And mostly, I try to calm their nerves as they sit there, hour after hour after hour after hour.
And I am part of a palliative care program, for families of patients who only have hours left to live. We bring them light meals (cheese, fruit, yoghurt, juice, hot beverages and water) so they can spend as much time as possible with their loved ones, instead of going out for food. While walking into those rooms takes a certain degree of courage and resilience, this is the most personally rewarding and gratifying work I have ever done in my life.
To lose a loved one is the worst experience one can have; and I am proud to be part of a program that is all about a different kind of healing — compassion and understanding. There may be nothing left that can be done, medically, to help the patient (other than pain management), but we can do something for the family.
In all the areas in which I work, I deal with people who are stressed and worried; and often, very sad. And what I’ve learned about myself is, I am really good in highly-charged, emotional situations. The more upset the people are around me, the calmer I am, the stronger I become. And the more I realize how lucky I am.
Lucky to have my health. Lucky to be the one offering support, instead of needing it; at least for that, particular day. Lucky because I have a schedule that is flexible enough to allow me to volunteer.
Lucky enough to know, first hand, how satisfying it is, to serve others.