Always Real, Modern Medicine

The Hospital Volunteer

Last week I had to go see one of my many doctors for a yearly check up so that he would continue to prescribe the pharmaceuticals of which I am so fond.

He has an office in one of the large local hospitals and as I walked through the maze of halls that snake through a small city of professional buildings, I was struck by the fact that everyone I passed was dealing with some sort of medical drama, either for themselves or someone they love.  And as I looked into the faces of the people I passed, I recognized in them that expression of fear that comes with an uncertain future.  And once you’ve been down that road yourself, you become attuned to the look and smell of that brand of fear.

When I got into the elevator, there was already an older gentleman standing in the back. I pushed the button for my floor and then turned to acknowledge him with a smile.

The doors hushed shut and the elevator began to hum as it moved us upwards, just the two of us.  He pulled his collar back to show me where had just had a biopsy of some sort on his neck.  “Glad that’s over,” he said to me.  I leaned slightly forward to look at his neck, not because I wanted to, but because I knew he needed me to look at it.  He needed to show someone and I was there.

“Wow,” I said. “Did it hurt?” I asked.  “Nah. Not too much,” he said bravely if not convincingly.   “Well you know what?” I said, “These docs here, they’re good. They’ll fix you up,” I encouraged.  It’s true. These docs here, they fixed me up a couple of times.  He pulled his collar together with both hands as though he were suddenly cold and stared at the floor.

The elevator doors parted and he stepped off into his uncertain future.  I watched him walk away as the doors shut and I hoped that he had someone waiting at home who would look at his neck and ask if it hurt.

When I got to my doctor’s office, I sat in the waiting room waiting to be called.  An older couple came in. The gentleman took a seat and the woman left with a nurse.  He sat down across from me and drummed his foot like a rabbit. I could see the worry etched deeply in his forehead.  He stood and walked to the window. And then sat down again.  And then stood again, turning one way and then the other but not going anywhere.  He literally didn’t know which way to turn.

He finally turned to me and said, “I think she’s going to be okay. I think so… I hope so.” He looked at me for confirmation, for hope. I leaned forward in my chair to indicate interest.  He needed to speak those words and he needed me to hear them.  “Well you know what?” I said to him, “You’re in the right place. These docs here, they’re good. They’ll fix you up.”  He nodded and sighed deeply.

Before I left the hospital that day, I had encountered several people who needed to express their fears, to release them to another human being, even a complete stranger.  Why me, I don’t know.  I don’t know if I had a particular openness to me that day or if in me they saw a kindred spirit, someone familiar with their brand of fear. Or maybe I was wearing a sign on my back that read, “Please. Tell me about your medical condition. I want to know.”

As I was driving home I thought about how hospitals have volunteers to tell you how to get from one part of the medical maze to another or to validate your parking ticket, but I think what they really need are people to wander the halls and ride the elevators to look at necks and accept released fear and offer words of encouragement, people who would wear a sign on their back that says, “Please. Tell me about your medical condition. I want to know.”

49 thoughts on “The Hospital Volunteer

  1. Isn’t it true, that people just want to be heard. We all need someone to look us directly in the eye and say: “Everything’s going to be fine” or “How do you feel about that?” or “Tell me more”. We want someone to listen, really listen to us, about the things that really matter.

  2. So true, so very very true.
    The ER doc that I spoke with in the midst of my wife’s heart attack was just that encouraging. He met me exactly where I was, confused, stunned, anxious and helpless. And he reassured me just like you did for them. It made all the difference.

    Your words were tonic to them, I am absolutely certain of it. God bless you.

  3. Yes, we all need to be heard. I sometimes wonder if that’s why blogging has taken off in such a big way. All those people needing to be heard.

  4. Those people were very lucky to have been able to speak their fears to you. It sounds like you were really in the right place at the right time. Thank you for comforting them.

  5. This afternoon I got the results from a biopsy that was taken last week. It was such a release to tell someone the news (my husband by phone). (Yuck, cancer again) But you are so right, what a wonderful idea to have volunteers to ‘hold your hand’.

  6. For all the hyperbole, rhetoric, gossip and gab that is constantly ringing in our ears these days…it’s amazing how man people just feel the need to be heard; to feel like someone is listening.

    I think you may be onto something there. Listening volunteers. I could do that.

  7. What a wonderful thing to read. Thank you for sharing. I will try to remember this next time I find myself is such a situation. I am grateful you brought this to my attention.
    Keep sharing!

  8. OH, dear A.M.!
    You’ve SO hit the nail on the head.

    AND, they shouldn’t have to go on and on so crazy-like until their Dr. writes a script for them to see a psychiatrist for a $1500 evaluation that ultimately says, “I need to be loved and attended to, not to mention I’m trying to act like I’m not scared to death”. The loved ones also need the assurance and listening ears, sometimes more than the sufferer.

    I have a special place in my heart for people who courageously fight their battle(s).

    Although I’ve never met you in person, I DO KNOW that you present an aura of kindness. You do it with your written words, so fully that I can’t imagine how effective you must be in person. You “leaned in”, when so many would look away, thinking that it surely is someone else’s job. You asked a little bit more, when someone else might just be glad to hear the “ding” that they’d arrived at their floor, so not to have to further engage. You cared. You cared at least for a minute, or obviously longer since we’re talking about it now:).

    Nevertheless, both of you were blessed by your short exchange, don’t you think? God works his wonders in mysterious ways.

  9. And the ones who don’t say much–but offer so much comfort with few words and warm, caring eyes. And a pat on the hand.

    I will never forget the nurse who stopped in my hospital room, over 20 years ago, in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep because the next morning I would have surgery for an ectopic pregnancy. She patted my hand and said, “I have to leave, honey, but I want to wish you luck and will be thinking of you.”

  10. AM,

    You have such a beautiful way of seeing (and writing about) the ordinary in everyday life. So many people would simply brush off the old man who’s trying to chit chat about his medical problems, but you, you see it as an opportunity to offer a tender word of encouragement. I admire you, and I strive to share your compassionate approach to life!

  11. But doesn’t that interfere with the new HIPA regulations????


    You’re spot on.

    When we stop being human…well…I guess it doesn’t matter what our diagnoses are. God put you in that spot, AM. And you followed His directions. I’m convinced of that.

    Don’t know if God put me in that spot. I do know there are a lot of frightened people wandering around hospitals who need someone, anyone, to acknowledge their fears and indicate to them in some small way that they matter, that they are not invisible. Takes so little. ~AM

  12. Many times, God uses His children to minister to His children who are in need. Today, God selected you to minister for Him. And you did.

    I remember being sent to a different waiting room after a questionable mammogram. A very sweet lady came in and sat with me and assured me that everything was going to be okay…and if it wasn’t okay, that these people would fix me up. Never saw her before or again…but she gave me a spirit of calm and everything did turn out to be okay.

  13. A poignant reminder for us to be on the lookout for ways to love on people in need, just as Jesus did while he walked this earth. The next time I wander through a hospital maze I will certainly remember this post. Thank you.

  14. The paths that we have gone down ourselves prepare us for such moments that you shared with us today. How could you not listen? How could you not give a word of comfort?

    The years my husband spent going to various hospitals and clinics for his cancer treatments I witnessed over and over him listening to old grandpas tell their medical histories. He was always kind, attentive, and encouraging. I know that he, too, wanted to look into my eyes and see hope and to hear me say that it would be OKAY.

  15. I’m in the midst of my my own medical uncertainty, resulting in lots of time wandering hosptial halls and doctor’s waiting rooms.

    I was waiting in line at the lab for my turn to get stuck with a needle, and saw in front of me every type of person – old, young, very young, male, female, hispanic, white, asian, and on and on. Every one seemed just as nervous as I was, each walking out of the lab looking relieved. It hadn’t been as bad as they’d imagined.

    I was struck by the fact health is the great common denominator. We’re all fragile. Very few of us really understand what’s happening when things go wrong. At some point, we will all be the person who is scared in the elevator or lost in the maze of hallways. A smile and understanding go a long way. Thanks for showing God’s grace to those in your path today.

  16. Your writing moved me to tears today. I thought of my brother-in-law and sister wandering the halls of a giant hospital before his death as a result of complications from leukemia. Also, I’m thinking of others. Hope I’ll be an angel of mercy like you were if given the opportunity.

  17. Thank you for this … it is awesome. A reassuring word to someone who is hurting or afraid really does wonders. We all need to more aware of the people who cross our path every day.

  18. Sad isn’t it. When I go into a hospital and see the big problems of others, it scares me to death. I’m on the other side of 60 and I think….what the heck is going to happen to me. It’s haunting.

  19. After twenty years of hospital nursing, I think my best asset was using my knowledge to inform patients of physicians’ instructions and giving them simple explanations of what was happening to them. Too often, patients don’t have a clue as to what is happening to them and knowledge is power over your medical problem. I surely hope that I made a difference in some people’s lives. My husband must wear your sign, because he talks to everyone in waiting rooms and most people really need to talk about the things that are weighing down their minds.

  20. I think you have a brilliant idea… Compassionate volunteers, ready at a moments notice to hold hands and listen in times of need and uncertainty. Where do I sign up?

    I love hearing how God put you in the paths of all those people. You were His willing vessel.

  21. At the cancer center in our city there are volunteers who pour hot tea for those in the waiting rooms (in china cups no less) and who sit with you if you are there alone.
    I had to sit there babysitting a friend’s daughter while the friend got very unwelcome news about her dad. It was a lousy place to be but those little ladies made it a bit less frightening for those affected.
    Since those little ladies can’t be everywhere, I will be looking to listen next time I am at the hospital.

  22. My oldest works in a nursing home. I pick him up from work and always have to wait for him to get out. During the time I am waiting, I watch all the elderly coming and going to and from visiting their spouses. The sadness is deep in their eyes. It breaks my heart. There are volunteers who do what they can to talk to families and cheer them up, but it’s just the saddest thing to see these people so lost in despair.

  23. And often, it’s easier to express our own vulnerability, our fear in the face of an uncertain future, to a complete stranger.

    Oddly enough I had a hospital experience myself yesterday and I was just about to blog about it.

  24. Oh this is so true! You have no idea how much you touched those people…well, I guess maybe you do since you blogged about it. I am in sales…and my customers are doctors…so I am in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals all day long. And I am amazed at what people tell me about their medical condition or their loved one’s medical condition…looking for some sort of encouragement from someone…anyone…even if it’s a complete stranger. But I don’t mind because those are the moments that move me too. You can read about it here

    Thanks for sharing! I LOVE your blog. 🙂


  25. AM, I believe we go through things ourselves just so we can help others when they are faced with the crisis. I’m glad you were able to let God’s love and compassion shine through you.

  26. AM, this is so true. We all need to be heard and validated at some point. I think that’s why the blog world has exploded so rapidly. People are hungry…for attention, for kinship, for understanding, for someone to take away the fears. I’m contemplating how much time I spend here, Blogland, versus how much time I spend connecting with my husband or RL friends, or reading the Bible. I’m not liking how I see the scales tipped in one direction right now, but I’m not courageous enough to address it at this point.

    This world is lonely. I think reaching out to others is a fine, fine way to help heal in some ways. Thank you for such a great post.

  27. I’m glad you let the Lord use you. Many people wouldn’t want to listen or show interest. Your re-telling touched me…..

  28. I so Mom went into the hospital the day after Christmas for 10 days and then into a nursing home for a couple of weeks before she passed away. All those days of visiting, I saw many of those looks. I, of course, was too wrapped up in my own worries to offer much comfort to others…tho there were opportunities and timing with a couple of people. I was one of those people who would have loved someone to ask and want to listen. But, I was the emotional support station for the family…staying “strong” for them. Thank goodness, my hubby did ask questions and listen as long as I wanted to talk.
    Loved your story…it makes a good point. Your writing always does…I love it and thank you.

  29. Compassion and encouragement.
    A warrior in your own right.

    Sometimes everyone needs validation for something. Wow. Cancer seems to be the biggie of all times.

    Hope this doesn’t sound light. We need more people to be open to those around them. Listening and encouraging.

  30. You had a special kind of magic that day. I always hope to be that kind of a person, one who can give encouragement and hope when the world feels so big. ~Jenny

  31. Yes, people need to be heard and acknowledged, just to know that someone is listening and cares. When a neighbor was diagnosed recently with an agressive form of breast cancer, she poured her heart out to me. We had never really spoken to each other that much prior to this, so I was a little taken aback that she was sharing so much information with me when we really didn’t know each other that well. We had had only had a few brief conversations out in the yard prior to this. We weren’t close friends or anything. But she was very scared (her husband is deployed to Iraq right now so she is facing this alone) and needed someone to talk to and offer comfort and support, and I was willing to be there to listen and offer hugs. I don’t know why she chose me to open up to, but I know I would want someone there for me if the circumstances were reversed.

  32. You were doing what we’re told to do as believers, “If you do it for the least of these…” And, yes, they probably DID sense an openness, cuz you were open to the Holy Spirit’s nudge. That’s something we all need to do, as believers. Thanks for the reminder and the example.

  33. Are you looking for a job? I’d hire you on the spot to come sit in my waiting room and reassure the patients that they can be “fixed right up.” May the Lord bless you for your kindess and sensitivity to those who needed hope.

    Great post. I’m going to share it with my staff. Thank you for a great reminder of what we all should do every day.

  34. Sometimes we are given the position to listen and sometimes we are given the position to talk. Thank you for knowing the right time to do both!

  35. My dad was seriously ill and in the hospital recently. For the first time, I saw my parents as “older people” And I saw the looks in their eyes: Will he get better? Is he coming home? What if he doesn’t?
    I know you really helped those people today with your few kind words.

  36. I took my husband to a doctor’s visit today following his cancer surgery of 02/09/09. My goal was to be a beacon of light like you. I looked for people in need. There were no elevator riders, no waiting room possibilities, so decided to treat the clinic staff with exceptional kindness which is our normal modus operandi. Thanks for the reminder. Of course, I am frequently inspired by you and should tell you so more often.

  37. I think you really hit the nail on the head with this one. I hate to admit it, but I am one of those people. It doesn’t matter if I’m in for a routine check-up or if I’m in for a surgery, I want to talk about it and I will turn to whatever outlet is available. So if my husband’s not right there, then, well, people like you, um, you know, thanks.

  38. What a great article you’ve written. And addressed a very real need! Thank God you were in the right place at the right time and that you were open to being used as a “listener.”

    I did volunteer work in a hospital for several years. I worked at the main desk in the Emergency Department. I found that a lot of my “work” was more in listening to, and comforting, the family/friends of a patient, than in “just” checking in the patient. Just a simple hug, a shoulder to cry on, a person to listen can be the most important thing we do!

  39. First, this post made me cry. Then it made me think of a nugget I keep on my frig:

    “People will forget what you did, they will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

    Bless you for making those people feel that someone cared enough to listen and encourage them.

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