Last Spring I started volunteering at the hospital. I was completely over “lunching with the ladies.” I wanted to use my time to be effective some where. I wanted to feel useful.
I met with the Volunteer Coordinator and she asked me what sort of thing I’d like to do at the hospital.
“Oh, I don’t know. I can tell you that I really do not want to do anything clerical. I can help with kids or sick patients. I know you have an art program and I could be involved in that. But as far as a department….I’m open to anything.”
I told her that I had heard of a program there called Nobody Dies Alone. This is where a volunteer sits with a patient who is dying but has no loved one available to be with them or maybe their loved one just has not arrived in time. I think it would be just as beautiful and miraculous to be with someone as they leave this world as it would be to be there when one enters it.
“We have special training for that and it’s sort of a tag onto whatever your regular volunteer position is,” she explained. “If you are needed for that during your volunteer hours, you’re paged and then you go and sit with them. It’s a beautiful program.”
She went on to say that she thought I would be a great fit on the Woman’s Health Services floor. This is where new mom’s are brought to recover. Ther nursery is on this floor as well.
I immediately had visions of me rocking a baby or wheeling a mom down to the curbside pick up where her flustered husband was bringing the car around.
“That sounds great!” I said and I couldn’t wait to get started.
On the Woman’s Health Services floor I work with some really nice nurses. Well…the ones who talk to me are really nice. I’ve been there almost a year so some of the nurses are able to call me by name now. My primary job is to sit at the desk and answer the phone. It’s a high security floor and so no one can enter with out being buzzed in first. I let them in. Or not. I’m a glorified bouncer.
Sometimes I take towels or new gowns to a patient. I answer their calls when they page for their nurse and then relay that message to the nurse. I put together packets or enter patient surveys into the computer. Clerical work.
I never ever do anything with a baby. I hardly even see them.
Sometimes a nurse will have her baby in a bassinett next to her while she is charting at the desk next to me. She may be briefly called away to attend to another patient but she can’t leave the sleeping baby with me. She has to get another nurse to sit with the baby.
It’s especially dumb because they have volunteer Cuddlers who hold the sick or premature babies staying in NICU. Makes no sense to train people to care for a sick baby but not let a mother-of-two babysit a sleeping healthy baby.
The volunteer role made me feel smaller. Doctors don’t speak to you, they barely look at you really, and the nurses speak to you on an as needed basis. There are about 4 people who will talk to me. One is the floor manager and one is the charge nurse so…they kind of have to anyway. This really gives a feeling of being too insignificant to be bothered with. I kind of hate to even tell a nurse that her patient paged and what their need is because I feel like I’m bothering them.
The ones who talk to me are grateful for me being there. They tell me all the time that they are so glad I’m there. The rest seem annoyed.
I tell myself that I’m helping the patient by freeing up the nurses to do more for them. Mostly I feel like it’s a similar gig to what I do at home: Doing the behind the scenes work to help everyone else be successful.
One day a mom walked past the desk to go…somewhere. Her eyes were empty. Her whole being was vacant. It was like she was walking dead. I see tired moms but there is still joy in their eyes. I see worried moms who pass on their way to sit with their baby in NICU. This mom though, was not either of those moms.
I noticed there was a symbol next to her name on the board. I asked the Charge what it meant and she said that she had lost her baby.
“The baby was dead but she had to deliver it so she’s up here while she recovers.”
She’s here to recover.
I prayed for that mom all morning. That’s the most effective I’ve ever felt as a volunteer.
A couple of weeks ago the Volunteer Coordinator sent out an e-mail saying that they desperately needed Cuddlers. There were 5 times available. I could work two of those shifts. I immeditately responded.
“Thank you Michal. I’ll keep you posted. I would really like to have you stay on in Woman’s Health Services,” she replied.
“I could Cuddle Tuesday morning or Friday morning and still keep my commitment to the ladies in Woman’s Health,” I volleyed. “I would really like a job where I’m more directly effecting a patient. I’m not very well utulized in Woman’s Health.”
“Thanks for the feedback. I’ll talk to the floor manager to see what we can do to make your job there more fulfilling.”
I was so sad. It did not sound like she wanted me to Cuddle. Why? Why was she insisting I stay in a role that I specifically told her from the get-go that I did not want to do?
Well, you are volunteering. You are to be used where needed. The whole point is to help others, not yourself.
A few days later I got another e-mail from the Volunteer Coordinator.
“Congratulations! You are a Cuddler!” The message went on to tell me the hours I would work and who to contact for training.
I was so happy! I’ll continue on with Woman’s Health and I’ll Cuddle on Friday mornings. Just one more reason to love Fridays!
Yesterday was training day. I woke up excited! I text my friends:
“I have my cuddles training tonight! Woo hoo! It’ll be so cool because then when I hug people I can be all, ‘It’s OK. I”m a trained professional.'”
“You were made for this!” Kelli said. “Big soft boobs, soft purring voice. If I was a parent I would want you to be their Cuddler.”
So last night I met with the Cuddler Trainer. She showed me how to change the baby’s diapers and take their temperature. Things I know but it is different with a teeny tiny little bud with wires and tubes coming out everywhere. I rocked one little guy for an hour. He’s been there 6 months and was one of the older babies in the unit. He was a real wiggle worm! Loved to be talked to. He smiled at me a lot. Loved it.
A Cuddler also makes sure all of the linens are stocked and they run various errands for the nurses. The four hours flew by instead of the way they drag when I’m in Woman’s Health Services. It was really lovely! I’m going to love this job!
When I got home I greeted Man with a hug.
“Can you tell the difference now that I’m professional?” I teased.
“I can. That was exceptional.”
Exceptional. Not just “nice.” That’s what a little training does for you.