Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"A (not the most impressive) First Step"

I felt an energizing jolt when I pulled out of my gym’s parking lot, headed for home. I recognized the feeling. Over forty years ago, I experienced that same rush when I was living in London, and I raced to the bus stop on my way to my first assignment as a substitute teacher.

It was a jolt of excitement.

At home, I showered, changed my clothes, got back in my car, and started driving. My driving had an uncharacteristic rhythm to it. An affirmative intention, if it’s possible for driving to have that. I could almost feel the other drivers’ acknowledging approval.

That man has someplace to go.”

As I neared my destination, I found my jolt being edged out by another feeling, manifested by a tightening in my throat. My excitement had company.


I arrived at the place, parked my car, and headed for the building. A third feeling jumped onboard.

The heebie-jeebies.

Otherwise known as panic.

I told myself to keep going.

I went inside, and headed to the Information Desk, the location where I had checked in and had handed over my Living Will.

For the first time in over a year, I had returned to the hospital where my robotic heart surgery had been performed.

This time, however, I was just being interviewed to volunteer there. It was an entirely non-medical visit. I’d be leaving in an hour.

They would not be doing anything to me.

Which is good.

At the Volunteer Office, I was handed a form to fill out. I don’t like filling out forms. Forms ask you stuff you may not want to tell them. But you have to. Because if you don’t, then you haven’t filled out the form.

They wanted two references. What for? To attest to my volunteering ability? What does that mean?

“We the undersigned affirm that Earl Pomerantz knows how to provide his time and services for nothing. We have witnessed him volunteering in the past, and we have never seen him accidentally ask for money.”

First of all, nobody could do that, because this was the first time I had ever volunteered for anything. I have no absolutely no volunteering resume whatsoever.

Setting that fact aside, the idea of asking people I know to put themselves on the line vouching for my potential as a volunteer, makes me really uncomfortable. What if they don’t want to?”

“We like you as a person, but we draw the line at signing a paper affirming you have the capacity to do something we have never ever seen you do.”

I don’t blame them. I knew I wanted to give something back to the Band of Brothers (and Sisters) who were following in my robotic heart surgical footsteps, but what if I stunk at it? My friends’ reputations as referenceurs would be thoroughly tarnished. With the blot of me on their resumes, they would be unable to get a reference to reference.Italic

Filling out hospital forms instantly triggers my “Loss of Control” alarm. This certainly wasn’t the “take away your pants” loss of control I’d endured the last time I was there, but it was still making me do what I didn’t want to do. A person volunteers, you say, “Thank you.” You don’t demand they provide “Medical Emergency” numbers. What is that for?

“Earl got sick volunteering. We need to inform his wife!”

My interviewer’s name was Barbara, a social worker who ran the hospital’s Volunteer Department. Barbara was like what all the social workers I know are like – patient, kind, smart, and intuitive. I try to assist her in that regard, by revealing tidbits of information from which an intuitive person could readily decipher the hidden message.

Picking up on my aversion to driving (“I’m a terrible driver!”, I revealed) and my the opposite of enthusiasm for visiting patients in the hospital (“I don’t even like visiting people I know in the hospital.”), Barbara quickly suggested that I consider providing my services from home, over the phone.

I immediately agreed.

Barbara made this, some might say backpedaling, decision easier by repeatedly emphasizing how great the volunteering commitment was, which included, among other obligations, a five-hour orientation session. When I asked her exactly what that involved, Barbara emphasized the importance the class placed on washing your hands.

I did the math in my head. Five hours on “washing your hands”? That’s thirty minutes a finger. I did not say that out loud, but my face did. Barbara intuited my face and reconfirmed the appropriateness of the alternative “phone from home" strategy, which did not require attending the “hand-washing” lecture. Though I did promise to take that more seriously in my everyday life.

My commitment is admittedly weenier than the “whole hog” experience I had thought I wanted to do, but which, maybe deep down, I wasn’t ready for, and Barbara had intuited that. Instead, I am now signed on as a less immersive telephone volunteer.

Anyway, it’s a start.

I hope people call.

And I hope I can help them.


Anonymous said...

As long as doctor's orders forbid laughter, you should be perfect at this.

Also, you might find this interesting as you have been mentioning your contrary nature. NPR has an article entitled A Contrarian Christmas-Movie List: Nine Seasonal Scenes That Truly Stand Out. I found it rather accurate and certainly amusing.

Anonymous said...

I really should have proof read the above before publishing - it should read as long as doctor's orders do not forbid laughter. Sorry I was really trying for something amusing.

Kathryn Hartog said...

You have never volunteered in your LIFE? I know for a fact that highschool students in Ontario need at least 40 hours of community service to graduate now. I guess I just assumed it's always been like that.