National Volunteer Week

Last week when I walked into the volunteer office, I saw a table filled with cookies and other treats. I realized it was National Volunteer Week and the treats were for us volunteers. It was the hospital’s way of thanking us and showing their appreciation for us. My supervisor also had made us little cards and gave us treats. It was a nice reminder that volunteers really do matter and we are not taken for granted. The extra effort that my supervisor had put in to make us cards and write a few nice things about us showed her encouraging characteristic as a leader. I felt good knowing that my supervisor had acknowledged the things that I was doing well. It was encouraging for me and a motivation for me to keep up my good work.

            Now back to my day actually volunteering. I started by going to my assigned floors. Like most of the times, most of the kids were bedside. I went back to the playroom to find that there wasn’t a single kid there. Usually there are at least a couple siblings hanging out. So after setting up the crafts and games, the other volunteers and I just sat around and started coloring, waiting for some kids to show up. A couple kids did end up coming but they were accompanied by their parents and did not need volunteers to supervise them. So my whole time there, me and the other volunteers just colored. Even my supervisor joined us because it was a slow day. It gave me a chance to get to know the volunteers and my supervisor better. It was almost like the kids were giving us volunteers a day off in honor of National Volunteer Week. 

An Unordinary Day

This blog is about a particularly memorable day I had at the Family Life Center a couple weeks ago that I haven’t had the chance to write about until now, so here it goes.

Upon arriving to the playroom, my supervisor told me that there was only going to be two volunteers, one other volunteer and me, instead of the normal four. I thought that it wouldn’t be too bad and the two of us would be able to handle it. I was wrong; we could definitely have used more help. I started out by going to my assigned floors to see if any if the kids wanted to come down. Usually most of them are bedside, but that day I brought back two girls who were eager to come down.  The other volunteer also brought down a couple of kids. There was also a big family visiting that had several kids. On top of that, several other parents and visitors kept filing into the playroom. Twenty minutes into my shift, the playroom was already booming with a lot of people. It was the busiest I had seen the playroom so far in my eight months of volunteering there. It was lucky that the Girl Scouts leader was visiting and was able to keep an eye on the arts and crafts table leaving the other volunteer and me to keep an eye on the other kids. That day we had two girls become Girl Scouts. They had their own little oath ceremony and everything. The girls were really happy and I was happy to see them smile especially since one of them had been at the hospital for a while and it helped to take her mind off of things. Another thing that happened was a girl vomited. Her parents were there thankfully and were able to help her clean up. I felt really bad. When she had first walked in I could tell she wasn’t feeling very well and the parents had brought her down to cheer her up a little. They had to take her back to the room after unfortunately but they took some games and books with so she could play in her room. It was a hassle keeping the other kids away from the play area where the girl had vomited until someone came to clean up and sanitize the area.

The most memorable, but sad thing happened was towards the end of my shift. The other volunteer told me that while he was supervising two kids playing video games from the big family, one of them nonchalantly told him that his brother had passed away that afternoon. That was why the whole family was there. I was very shocked upon hearing this. I had also supervised some of the other kids from that family and didn’t even get the slightest inkling that their family member had passed away. I suppose this was because they were young kids and did not really realize and understand what was going on. This was the first time while volunteering there that I had directly heard of a child passing away. I felt really sad and sorry for his family for having to go through that. From what I knew, the boy was really young, only around 8 or 9 perhaps. It made me want to be a pediatrician even more so I can give medical care to kids so little kids like him don’t have to pass away so soon. I hope that his family is persevering through this trauma. RIP little buddy.

An Ordinary Day

It was a pretty typical Wednesday afternoon in the Brown Family Life Center this week. There were no guest visitors planned for the day so it was just a regular playgroup. As usual, I started out my volunteering shift by making rounds on the floors to bring down kids to the playroom. To my surprise, unlike most days, there actually were a handful of kids on the floors who are eligible to come down. Most of the time, they are just bedside. So I went into the rooms of the kids who were able to come down to see if they wanted to and encourage them to do so. I realized I have become much more comfortable talking to the parents than I was when I first started volunteering there. I’m not as nervous anymore and I am much more enthusiastic. Talking to parents is a skill that will really come in handy as a pediatrician since kids will always be accompanied by their parents. It’s important to make not only the kids feel at ease at the hospital, but also the parents, especially when the parents don’t know English. Through the course of my volunteering, I have noticed that the hospital has a lot of Spanish speaking families. Now I am not fluent in Spanish, but I try my best to speak in Spanish to Spanish speaking parents when I can. This not only helps them understand what I am saying better, but it also makes them smile that I am attempting to speak in Spanish even though they know its not my language. Some have even helped me out in what I was trying to say. Having studied abroad, I know how scary it can be when you don’t know what people are saying to you. So when possible, I try to speak Spanish to make the parents more comfortable, as well.

Back in the playroom, we had a handful of kids show up. With three volunteers, we divided and conquered. One of the volunteers supervised the video games section (I don’t know anything about video games). Another volunteer overlooked the general play area with games and toys. I was in charge of supervising the arts and crafts area (my favorite). The craft of the day was making these cool door hangers. I even made one for my roommate and me. One of the reasons why I like the arts and crafts section so much is because I actually get to have one-on-one conversations with the kids. While coloring or gluing, we talk about various things, such as their friends, favorite TV shows, or hobbies they have. This helps distract the kids a little and not focus on the IV pole that is attached to them or the cast that’s on their foot. Today, we also had an incident where a physician tried to do an eye test on her patient in the play area. The supervisor had to remind the physician that she was not allowed to do anything medical related, even a simple eye exam, because it was a medical free zone. It was the rule of the play area. This shows that they take the play area seriously. It is the one place that the kids in the hospital can go without having to worry about a needle being stuck in them or a doctor doing a check up and they really enforce it.

Girl Scouts

This week in the Brown Family Life Center, we had a Girls Scouts leader, Irene, join us for arts and crafts. She brought her own materials and set them up for the kids. I mentioned in a previous blog that the last time Irene was there she gave a girl a sash because her school did not have the funding to provide them. This week we had three girls actually become Girl Scouts. They took their oaths right in the Brown Family Life Center and were given their sashes. We had our own little mini celebration for them. I think it is so awesome of other organizations like Girl Scouts to come volunteer their time at the hospital and provide these kinds of special services for the children. It helps to build a small community of caring and compassionate people right in the hospital.

Other than the Girls Scouts, we had regular playgroup time. It was a pretty busy afternoon with quite a few kids. After doing some arts and crafts, I played house and tea party with some of the little girls. There was an issue where two of the girls weren’t sharing the toys with another girl. I had to make an intervention and things went pretty smoothly. I also got a chance to practice my Spanish-speaking skills since two of the girls didn’t speak much English. I’m always looking for a chance to sharpen my skills since I’m not taking any Spanish classes anymore, so this was a great way to do that. At the end, I helped clean up and made sure things were in order. Overall, it was a pretty successful day in the Brown Family Life Center.

A Look at the New Hospital

This week it was a rather slow Wednesday afternoon in the playroom. From the floors that I was assigned, there were no kids who were eligible to come to the playroom. So my supervisor told me to set up the craft of the day while we waited for kids to come. The craft was painting your own puzzle, so I took out all the paint supplies and smocks. In the meantime, a cute little four year old was dropped off. He was tiny, but quite a handful. Since there was only one kid, and three of us volunteers we all played with him. While we were playing with him, we noticed that he kept saying things like, “if you don’t do this, your momma’s gonna whoop you with her belt.” We became a little concerned about this because he might have been saying those things because his mom may be doing that to him. We let our supervisor know, who said she would talk to his nurse. I really hope that his mom was not abusing him, and he was just saying those things out of his imagination. It would just break my heart to find out he was being abused. But, let’s just hope for the best. Eventually, we had a couple other kids come and I painted puzzles with some of them. I forgot how much fun painting used to be in art class. I’m pretty sure I was having more fun than the kids!

Last week I mentioned that I had to attend an orientation session at the new Children’s hospital downtown. I went this past Saturday, February 11. We didn’t see the whole hospital since there is still construction going on, but I saw enough to be really excited about it. The new hospital is going to be absolutely amazing. They have thought of everything to make it the best experience possible in a hospital for the children. One cool thing they told us was that everyday one child will be picked to select a new design for the huge Children’s hand logo on the North side of the building. They can select what color lights they want it to be right from their rooms. Across the street is a camera that will take a picture of how the lighted logo looks to the city of Chicago and they will be able to take home that picture. Furthermore, the hospital will have sleep suites for parents for temporary stay as needed. All the patient rooms will be private so families can have more space and privacy. The thing I found absolutely amazing was seeing the amount of donations the hospital received. Many different organizations throughout Chicago partnered with the hospital to help out in any way they could. For example, the Shedd Aquarium donated two huge whale sculptures that are now hanging from the ceiling in the main floor on the hospital. It made me really happy to see people making an effort to work together to give these sick children the best hospital experience possible. Simply put, if I was a kid, I would be really excited to get to stay in a hospital like that.

Brightening Someone Else’s Day

This week before even starting to volunteer, the first thing I did when I got to the hospital was sign up for an orientation session at the new hospital. For those that still have not heard, Children’s Memorial is moving downtown near Water Tower this June. The building is pretty much up and ready and the hospital is requiring all of its staff to attend an orientation to see the building, learn about new safety rules, et cetera. My orientation is not until February 11, however. I will write more about it after I attend. I am really excited to see the new hospital. Below is a link to a YouTube video that shows a little sneak peak about the new hospital.

After I signed up for an orientation time, I made my way up to the Brown Family Life Center. It was just a normal playgroup today, and was more on the slow side. I made rounds on my assigned floors, but most of the children were not able to come to the playroom. There were four of us volunteers and only one or two kids so there was a lot of down time. So I decided to focus on one of my three goals for volunteering, which was learning about the importance of volunteers at the hospital. I chatted with the other volunteers that were there and we were sharing significant volunteering experiences that we had. One of the volunteers told me about her beside visit with one little girl from the previous week. Due to medical reasons, the girl had not been able to come to the playroom, but has requested a volunteer to go to her room and spend some time with her. The volunteer had been more than happy to do so. She read to the girl, played some games with her and just had a fun conversation. She said that just by reading to the girl, she had made two people’s day brighter; the little girls’ and hers. The girl just became so much more cheerful while the volunteer was around. Today, the volunteer wanted to visit the girl again, but found out that she had been discharged, which was a good thing. I think it’s amazing what simple gestures like reading a book can do for children. It doesn’t take much to bring a smile upon their face and knowing that volunteers have the ability to make their days better is a truly rewarding feeling and shows the importance of volunteering.

A Little Introduction

At Children’s Memorial Hospital, I volunteer in the Brown Family Life Center. It is a play area for patients and families where they can come to relax for a little bit and get away from their hospital rooms. Essentially, it is a medical free zone. Doctors and nurses are not allowed to come give medication or any other type of medical care in the playroom. The playroom is open three times a day where patients and families are allowed to come visit. There is usually some sort of planned activity going on such as bingo or crafts with Girls Scouts. Various celebrities and guests also come visit such as Benny the Bull, the Chicago Bulls’ mascot. If no activity is planned, there are always board games, toys, crafts, and video games the children can play. Parents are allowed to leave children with there with the volunteers if they need to go run errands real quick. As a volunteer, it is my responsibility to supervise the children that visit. The goal is to make them happy so that they can forget, even if temporarily, about being sad for having to be at the hospital. Many times the children are there for long periods of time and they get sick of not being able to go home and see their friends and family. As a volunteer, I can play board games with them or color or whatever else they want to do so they can get their mind of things and refresh themselves.
I have been volunteering at Children’s since August 2011 and so I already have an established routine for my time there. So today I started by taking out some board games and putting them on the tables to attract children. Next, I set up the crafts table for the craft that we were doing that day by bringing out markers, paint, and other art supplies as necessary. After everything was set up, my supervisor gave us a list of patients between the ages of 4-11 that we could potentially bring down to the playroom. So I went to each of the floors I was assigned and first checked the Brown Family Life Center Referral binder that the nurses usually keep marking which patients are able to come and which are not. Most children are “bedside” and are not able to come down due to various reasons, such as being in isolation. If the children are eligible to go to the playroom, I go to their rooms and encourage them to come telling them about what activities we have planned, and explaining more about it if they do not already know about it. After I did this, I went back to the center. Some days are slower with only one or two children showing up, other days are busier with the whole play area crowded with children. This week, we had a Girl Scouts leader visit who had planned a Valentine’s Day craft. I helped her out and helped the younger children cut, glue, et cetera as needed. One of the girls who had come to play said she was a girl scout at her school but had not received a sash due to insufficient funding. The Girl Scout leader had brought some with her and with the permission of her mother, was able to give her a sash. The little girl was delighted to receive it and was excited about going back to school and showing off her sash as she would be the only one in the school with it. It made me really happy to see that the hospital provides such wonderful programs and opportunities for their patients. They realize that the children are missing out on their lives back home and put in a great deal of effort to make up for that in any way that they can. I am always honored to say that I am a volunteer at Children’s Memorial Hospital.

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