5 things I learned from volunteering at the hospital

After four rewarding years, today’s my last day. I would say something like “it feels as if I signed up just yesterday” in a nostalgic way, but 1) it doesn’t, because 2) volunteering here has become such a routine, memorable part of my life, and 3) I’d like to avoid clichés.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to reach the level of familiarity with a hospital I have after working as a gift shop cashier for a year and as a patient dispatcher for three. Health care is great, but it’s better not to need it.

Anyway, being part of hospital operations regularly for so long has given me opportunities, experience, and a chance to make myself a better person.  But none of it would have come without learning a few things along the way. So, unsolicited, and partly in celebration, here’s what I learned.

1. The cranky old man stereotype is mostly true.

And I don’t blame them.

2. Hospital food isn’t bad.

At least at Methodist, volunteers get a free meal from the cafeteria each day they work. You’d be surprised at how good the food is. Given how many patients I’ve asked about their hospital stay, very few have complained about it. The few that did are referred to above.

3. Sundays are the quietest.

Not many people are admitted to the hospital during weekends in general for some reason, and not many people leave either. Visitors who have someone they know in the hospital for multiple days or weeks comment on how busy the weekdays are relative to the weekends.

4. Everything is highly systematic.

While it may not seem like it while you’re told to wait 20 minutes for a prescription to be filled at the pharmacy, hospitals are more machine-like and efficient than you might think. Everything is kept track of on so many levels. Even when I get a call to discharge a patient, there’s a chart to fill out and a carbon copy to write on. For nurses, schedules and computerized data are a necessity. In a hospital, the disorganization level is zero.

5. Decor is strategic.

Earth tones and subdued warms make up 50% of the difference between a hospital and a prison. Methodist’s main floor has a ton of nature paintings, mostly of breezy grass fields and peaceful idylls. The walls and wood paneling are honey colored. Decor plays a role in healing—it’s as functional as it is aesthetic.

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It’s not often you hear someone say they’re going to miss the hospital. But I am. The people here at Methodist are top-notch care providers—which might have something to do with why it’s a nationally ranked hospital in that regard. The staff are friendly, practical, and genuine. The volunteers are many and it’s easy to make friends.

I’m really, really going to miss this place.