It wasn't a job and I didn't get paid - it was volunteering at the hospital over the summer. Every day, I wore a hideous red-and-white striped shirt that came down to my knees. I was a candy-striper. One of my tasks was to be an aide to a
lady I'll call Mrs. Jones in the pediatric wing. I thought it would be interesting, but I was wrong.
I didn't know that assistant meant "gofer" for Mrs. Jones, who was a social worker. I sat in her tiny office and waited for her to tell me to do something. I'm used to being very active and doing what I want, so I got restless sitting there for three hours, though I didn't show it.
Eventually, Mrs. Jones would have me do tasks like get a medical chart, put it away, make phone calls to order a taxi or call another wing in the hospital, report time and type of birth from a chart in the maternity wing, and things like that. It's not that Mrs. Jones was mean, it's just that I didn't like being ordered around. This is not how I pictured spending my summer. And the truth was it wasn't Mrs. Jones specifically who made volunteering tedious, but where I was volunteering.
I hate hospitals. I can't stand the smell, the sight, the taste of hospital food, or anything about hospitals. And this hospital was right across from a cemetery! Inside, about 25 rooms surrounded Mrs. Jones's office. I could hear babies crying and children screaming for their parents. I heard parents trying to calm their children and attempting to speak English, but resorting to their native languages. It was sad and upsetting.
For six weeks, twice a week, I heard the sounds of sickness and suffering. I didn't hear children's laughter. I heard the sorrow and fear in the hospital and I could taste the tears of the young patients. The pediatric wing was not a happy place. Even if the crying was just over a small shot, it didn't matter. It was relentless.
Sometimes I would file papers or take phone messages in another office of the hospital. I was happy when I didn't have to go to the pediatric wing. Yes, filing was boring, but at least I wouldn't have to listen to loud cries.
I haven't volunteered at the hospital since, and I don't intend to. I won't lie, I don't miss the hospital or its sounds. I don't miss it because I don't like to cry, and being there made me want to. I will always do community service, but not at a hospital.
The good that came out of this was that I realized I could never work in medicine. There are things more important than a fat paycheck, and because of this experience, I realized that one of them is waking up each morning and knowing I enjoy my job.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.