A lot of people make fun of volunteering. Let’s face it—it’s an easy target. Because I volunteer at a hospital, I get called a “candy striper” often, especially by older family and friends who remember this term. I once saw a T-shirt that was actually pretty funny that said “Stop me before I volunteer again!” People can be jaded about volunteering, because many of the jobs are pretty simple in nature.
Yet every now and then, in the midst of these realities about volunteerism, a real jewel of an experience can be thrown your way that clarifies why you come in every day. I have had several such experiences, and I want to share one with you now.
One of my responsibilities at the hospital is to discharge patients when their care is completed and they are being released. This entails taking a wheelchair to their room and wheeling them down to the front of the hospital for a waiting family member or friend. This is usually pretty simple and uneventful. Usually the high point of this is getting to converse with a friendly patient or one of their accompanying family members as I escort them out of the hospital.
A few months ago when I went into a room to discharge a patient she happened to be a very physically and mentally handicapped young woman who was confined to a wheelchair. She was probably in her late twenties or early thirties, but it was difficult to tell. Her hands were curled and face grimaced, and she appeared unable to speak.
As I was wheeling her off the floor, down the elevator, and out the front lobby, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh my, her parents must be so disappointed. She’s in really bad shape. What a shame. She must need constant care, and will likely require it for the rest of her life. If I were her father, I would be terribly frustrated—even devastated. How do her parents handle this awful twist of fate?”
Then, as I exited the front lobby to the area where family and friends come to pick up discharged patients, I saw a man, probably in his fifties, who noticed us and began walking briskly toward us.
This was likely the unfortunate, long-suffering father.
As the man got closer and recognized that it was, in fact, his daughter, his eyes brightened and his smile widened. He exclaimed, “Patricia, you look so lovely today! You are finally coming home. We can’t wait to have you back home! We missed you so much!” And he carefully and lovingly placed his young daughter in his car, said thank you, and drove off.
I was stunned. My eyes began to well with tears and I just stood there for a few minutes, trying to process what had just occurred.
Then I began to think, “What had I missed there? How could I have been so wrong about the father? Why did he and I have such differing attitudes about his daughter?”
It actually took me days to fully comprehend what I had failed to understand when I was evaluating the handicapped young woman and her father.
Now I know the meaning of unconditional love—the true meaning, not just the greeting card variety.
And now when I deal with my adult children and their occasional minor problems and shortcomings, I hope that I am just a little bit more compassionate for having briefly met Patricia and her dad.