Bustling about the waiting areas and treatment areas were several kind-hearted souls. They gave of their time and received no compensation, yet they provided services that I gratefully accepted. They are the hospital volunteers.
Volunteers don’t just donate their time as they please — they are required to commit to a minimum number of hours for more than 6 months. Their commute to the hospital isn’t paid for either — they are responsible for their own bus fare or gasoline, but at least parking was provided at a designated lot. And yet in spite of that they did volunteer freely in a number of different ways.
Sporting blue vests, the volunteers were stationed at the information kiosk as you entered the Odette Cancer Centre. They were there to direct you to the appropriate reception desk, and were also available to help anyone complete their wellness questionnaire who wasn’t comfortable using a computer.
You could also see them moving about the waiting areas tidying up stacks of magazines and distributing informational leaflets as well as ensuring that the coffee station supplies were fully stocked and fresh coffee was always available, and to push a wheelchair when help was needed.
Near the reception and waiting areas volunteers manned the Patient Education and Research Learning Centre (PEARL). These volunteers were specially trained in how to provide patients with the right pamphlets and resources in order to get the information they required about their cancer, treatments, and the like.
In the chemo waiting area, volunteers would occasionally set up activities for the patients. For example, once they set up a finger painting station where patients could work out their frustration, anxiety, anger, fear, etc. by using their hands to manipulate paint on paper. At first the patients would be a bit reserved, but then some really got into the spirit of it. There were some very expressive paintings.
In the chemo treatment area, volunteers served patients a choice of hot soup along with juice and/or water. From time to time they’d bring baskets containing sample packets of cookies to the patients and their accompanying family and friends.
Not everyone is suited to be a volunteer, however. At my very first visit to the Oncologist in Barrie, before I was referred to Sunnybrooke, I was led by a volunteer to the consultation room. It was a lengthy walk, and during the entire time she told me cancer horror stories one after another. I was already horrified and scared before I got there, so this didn’t help me at all. I should have told her to shut up but I was too stunned. Isn’t that what they say about pregnancy? That everyone wants to tell you their own horror stories? Definitely more sensitivity training was needed there.
Of all the volunteers that do a wonderful job, I know of one personally. His name is Bob, and before manning the information booth he used to volunteer on the children’s ward at Sunnybrooke. He’d recite a little poem to the kids, and as he recited it he’d draw a picture to accompany the words. He was so loved that he was honoured with a dedication plaque that was mounted in the main corridor connecting Odette to Sunnybrooke. Here’s the whole plaque for you to enjoy (click on it to enlarge):
There have been many economic studies on the monetary value of volunteers (see here, here, and here) but there is more value to the volunteer than simply money. A dollar can’t warm your heart with a smile or a cup of hot soup. I leave you with this last thought:
“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.” ~Sherry Anderson
Next time: treatments are nearly done.