On a chilly day during the winter of 2014 my mother asked me, “Did you know there is an opportunity to volunteer at the hospital this summer?”
It sounded like an amazing experience, but the summer months were so far away I didn’t think much of it. I agreed to apply mainly because I knew it would look good on college applications; however, I didn’t expect to get accepted into the program.
Despite my initial thoughts, around two months after I submitted my application I got a call from Northeast Georgia Medical Center asking if I could come in for an interview. I agreed and one week later received an email stating that I had been accepted into the program! I was tremendously excited, but didn’t think that it would be much more than something I would do once a week, get my hours in and have a certificate to show.
Contrary to my original belief, the new experiences that I have been exposed to during my two years as a part of the summer volunteer program have ended up being the foundation on which I will build the rest of my life. At some points during the summer, I would take a lemonade cart around to the waiting rooms with free cookies and lemonade for the visitors to enjoy.
Although it didn’t seem like much to me, to those waiting to hear news about a loved one, a cookie, cup of lemonade and a smile meant the world. Never before had I realized how much of an influence one little act of kindness could have on someone.
The smiles on the faces of children, adults, and the elderly alike were eye-opening and made me aware of how important being kind actually is. While it didn’t strike me at the time, I helped hundreds of people get through their day just by completing that simple task. By helping others, I, in turn, helped myself. I realized that one doesn’t have to do something monumental to make a difference, that it only takes a small act of kindness.
I also was made aware of how much of an impact I could have on the world, even if it was through something as insignificant as a 4-ounce cup of lemonade and a store bought chocolate sandwich cookie.
During my time volunteering at the hospital, I would complete patients rounds on the cardiac unit. This meant that I would go around to each room and survey patients who had recently had cardiac surgery asking questions such as, “How is the noise level at night?” and “Are your nurses checking on you every one to two hours?” As expected, some patients would reluctantly agree and some would stare at me until I left, however, there were a select few that were more than happy to be interviewed.
I vividly recall one interview with an elderly man. I pushed on the large, silver door handle while knocking on the wooden door, peeking around it to see if I were welcome in. Just as I spotted him sitting in a chair looking out of his window, he turned his bald head and flashed a smile as big as the sea in my direction. “Come on in!” he said.
I had gotten through most all of the questions and was on the last one, “Are there any additional comments you would like to add about your stay?” He sat pondering for around five seconds, then looked me right in the eyes and said in a quivering, elderly voice, “There’s nothing more I could ask for. At this hospital, or in my life. You know, life is what you make it,” he pointed at the hospital bed and continued, “I could lay in that bed day after day staring at the blank wall feeling sorry for myself, questioning why this happened to me, why I had to have a heart attack. But instead, I choose to walk around as much as they will let me. I choose to sit here by the window, so that I can look out and see all of the wonderful things around us.
“There is just so much to be grateful for, and I just don’t understand why some people choose not to enjoy all of it.”
It was one of the most powerful conversations that I have ever had with someone and it was with a complete stranger at that. That conversation made me think about just how good we have it, and how much we take it for granted. It made me realize that I need to live life to the fullest because there are so many beautiful things to explore, and the time at which they could be taken from us is always uncertain.
In today’s society, many people feel as though they are out of place due to constant judgment making them feel as though they don’t belong. I have felt that way many times before. However, when I’m at the hospital, I feel as if I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Helping others is something that I have always enjoyed doing. The warm feeling that I experience in my heart when I know someone is grateful for what I did for them is one that is irreplaceable.
Through my experiences at the hospital, giving out cookies, restocking the pre-surgical cabinets, emptying blue bags and many other things, I have realized that helping others truly is my calling. I believe that everyone has a place where they fit in this world, and I found mine during the summer volunteer program at The Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Carley English is a senior at Chestatee High School. She completed her second year as a hospital volunteer serving 50 hours.