I’ve known I wanted to be a nurse since the day I took my dad’s stitches out. It was early evening, and Dad was hunched over the bathroom sink, shirtless, trying in vain to remove the thin blue sutures from the still-pink – but healed – gash on his arm. I was watching him, fascinated.
After a few minutes of unsuccessful snipping and pulling, Dad handed the minuscule silver scissors to me and asked, “Would you help?” His forehead was shiny with sweat.
“Sure,” I replied, bending down and gently sliding the scissors between the pink scar and the blue suture. Cautiously, I snipped then grabbed a pair of tweezers to pluck the stitch out.
“One down, four to go.”
Dad smiled in thanks. I gingerly removed the last four stitches, rubbed some Neosporin on the scar, and gave Dad’s arm a pat. Stitches out, job well done.
My desire to enter the health care field led to my interest in the human body. I spent hours and hours poring over my dad’s college textbooks. Every aspect of physiology fascinated me, and I turned myself into a human sponge, absorbing everything I read. However, I began to long for hands-on experience in the diverse world of health care.
Late May of my freshman year of high school, I applied to and was selected for the O’Connor Hospital Junior Volunteer program. I was assigned to the Sunshine Cart, which traveled to patient rooms to hand out toiletries and books. After five vaccines, three training sessions, and a two-hour tour of the labyrinthine hospital, I was ready to start.
On my very first day, I dropped my basket of toiletries, accidentally bonked into a nurse with the Sunshine Cart, and unintentionally entered an isolation room. That day was rough. I remember getting off my shift and suffering a small identity crisis. Is health care for me? I wondered. Am I fit for this field?
But volunteering only got easier from there. I became an expert at navigating the busy and mazelike hallways, and juggling toiletry baskets and books became a breeze. Most of my visits with patients were pleasant, and I was often complimented on my bright smile. The only persistent difficulty was the language barrier. Most of the patients spoke Spanish or Vietnamese; I spoke neither. I was thankful that toiletries are easy to act out: I pointed to my mouth for “toothbrush,” my hair for “shampoo,” and my armpit for “deodorant.”
One of my most memorable experiences as a Sunshine Cart volunteer was with an elderly Filipina patient. As I entered her room and began to introduce myself, she held up her tiny, wrinkled hand. “I will sing you a song!” she exclaimed, clearing her throat.
“I love you,
For sentimental reasons.
I hope you believe me,
I give you my word.”
“That’s very good,” I complimented her. She beamed and explained, “When I was 17 and coming on a boat from the Philippines to meet my husband in America, that song played as I was walking off the boat. I never forgot it.” She grabbed my hand. “You are a very pretty girl,” she told me. I squeezed her small hand before heading back to work, and I can still feel its warmth.
Despite the many challenges of being a Sunshine Cart volunteer, I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything. Not only does it provide me with hands-on experience in the world of health care, it makes me feel good. There is nothing better than a patient smiling and exclaiming, “You made my day!”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.