"That'll be three dollars for the candy, please," I told the woman who had decided her outfit was not complete without a pink straw hat and "Jackie O" sunglasses. She whipped out her change purse and started giving me dimes, nickels and a few Canadian pennies. Unbothered by the four customers behind her, she began to tell me about her husband who was having his big toe operated on; the supply of Almond Joys were to make him feel better. All I could do was smile.
When I decided to volunteer at the hospital a year ago, I can't deny that scenes from "ER" had run through my head. Although I realized it wouldn't be as glamorous as TV, I did envision assisting doctors and nurses, visiting patients, and handling important paperwork. I didn't think I'd end up as far away from the operating rooms as possible, but for three hours every Thursday afternoon, I can be found behind the counter of the hospital gift shop.
Jim is the manager, and if you make the mistake of asking, "What's new?" his response is, "New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire." He prides himself on being a grumpy old man, but on more than one occasion, he has burst out singing and dancing to Frank Sinatra. His dedication to his job has taught me a lot about work ethics and responsibility. He trained me, taught me merchandising skills, customer relations and, most important, trusts me to do a good job. I am respected and treated like an employee, even when Jim jokingly threatens, "That's coming out of your paycheck!"
Having spent a lot of time volunteering at the hospital, I've met quite a number of people. Many of the doctors, nurses and staff know me by name and drop by to say hello. Often I talk to happy families buying baby gifts and balloons for a new arrival. I help people pick out gifts as they tell me a little about themselves. Some of these stories have
become lasting memories. One day, as I was gift-wrapping a purchase, the woman asked me to hurry because time was truly of the essence. On another occasion, I met a man whose wife was dying. He had been at the hospital all day with her. When he came into the shop, I helped him pick out flowers, and as he was leaving, he thanked me because talking to me had brought a bit of happiness to his day.
When I get to the hospital, I put on a red volunteer's jacket, my photo identification and a smile. The most important thing I can do is be cheerful. I never know why people are at the hospital, or what kind of news they received. They might be a patient or visitor, sick or well, coming to say "Congratulations," "Get Well" or "Goodbye." I am only a teenager volunteering a few hours a week at the local hospital. I may not be handing a scalpel to a doctor, or feeding a patient, but what I do adds a smile to someone's day who may need it. This opportunity to make their day better is certainly worthwhile.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.