Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Circle Game

It was early December, and suddenly at the age of twelve I wanted to start volunteering at the local nursing facility. Looking back I have no understanding of why I decided this, how the thought even came to me, I mean crap I was twelve. But it did and one afternoon I dressed nicely and walked my butt the two or three blocks to Mirada Hills Convalescent and Rehabilitation Hospital and applied for Candy Striper. Except, they didn’t have Candy Stripers.

So instead I became a Nightingale. Being only twelve they weren’t going to let me in except two things: first I turned thirteen (the acceptable age) in just two months, and secondly they didn’t have any Nightingales at the time – program yes, volunteers no. They let me in -now looking back, I wonder if they let me in thinking that I’d drop out after the first day. If so, they didn’t know me at all.

I remember the first requirement, after having the want, was to perform one hundred hours of Nightingale service. That was just to get my nametag. Two hundred hours to get my patch. No sweat, I did one hundred hours in two weeks time. I know pretty shocking right? I breathed, ate, and drank being a Nightingale. I had more than two hundred hours by the end of December. I think they were pretty shocked when I showed up on Christmas Eve, by Christmas day I doubt they were fazed by me.

All this despite the fact my very first patient died on me. Really, she died; I fainted the rest is history.

Mrs. Taylor must have been well into her nineties (but then I was twelve, what did I know?) my first duty was to feed her a late breakfast. That Saturday morning I’d dressed in a brown jumper and a pink plaid shirt, with a beige sweater (I know, one specific event all the way back in 1967, I remember exactly what I was wearing.) I wasn’t going to wear the sweater, (the jumper was made out of this incredibly heavy material) but my mom made me.

Major digression, poor Mrs. Taylor is starving by now. I slowly ladled runny eggs, pasty oatmeal, and this putrid puree stuff into her mouth, between dainty sips of her morning tea. Mrs. Taylor seemed like a really nice little old lady, she smiled and was patient with me when I went to fast. But suddenly she wasn’t feeling at all well, and damn, I was getting really hot. I excused myself to remove the sweater, picked up the spoon and tried to feed her another bit of egg. But she wasn’t having any of that. No, Mrs. Taylor wanted the nurse… just about the time the room started swimming for me. Picking up the call button, I rang for the nurse, excused myself again, walked to the doorway (I’m sure pretty much like a drunken sailor,) and passed out.

When I came to, Mrs. Taylor had expired and I had possibly the worst first day to start a career as a Nightingale. The urged me to go home, called my mom to come get me, but after less than an hour and one dead patient in my wake I was having none of going home. Two or three months later I earned my green striped jumper that signified I was a Nightingale. And by summer I’d earned my nursing cap.

Whether it was just filling room pitchers water with fresh water and ice or delivering and picking up meal trays I was eager to do it. I loved the patients, I loved the work, I loved being needed. These wonderful people with their cute stories and cherished pictures wanted me. But it was those same pictures that made my blood boil. I saw pictures of kids I went to school with, kids who never visited their grandparents, great grandparents. These people who lived just blocks or a few short miles away couldn’t come visit? These people, seemingly, looked forward to my smile, the flowers I sometimes brought with me, to my cookie cart, for just a hello. Before long I was recruiting more volunteers from my friends, and the program flourished. And that is not to say I take credit for that, I don’t, the job and the people just totally rocked. I worked there until just before I moved to Oregon, and never regretted a day.

Now you’re saying to yourself, “Nice story Cele, but get to the point.” Life is a circle, as I always say, where we’ve been is who we are. But it is also interesting at the points of our earlier life that lay a foundation for the points of our future life, hence the title of this blog “The Circle Game.” This afternoon while chatting with a woman I know at work, she mentioned she wanted to start a Candy Striper program at the hospital (she’s a busy person at the hospital, whom I adore.) I began rhapsodizing about how much I’d adored, loved, cherished my memories as a Nightingale.

After several questions, Di smiled at me and said, “You’re the one.”

She has wanted to start a Candy Striper program at Peace Harbor Hospital, but needed a volunteer mentor to work with these teenagers. She wasn’t about to start such a program until she had the right person, someone who’d been there and had a passion for it.

In truth I was blown away, almost started crying. Wow, I am incredibly honored, scared, and wow. I need to discuss this with Ducky, but wow, what an opportunity to give back to my community, even in a small way, and it’s something I loved so dearly.