Hospital Volunteers: Unsung Heroes

We tend to think of hospital volunteers as elderly, gray-haired Pink Ladies who sit behind a reception desk in the lobby giving directions. Or we imagine young female Candy Stripers who staff the gift shop, selling flowers or teddy bears to patients’ families. Yes, those are volunteers, and we love them for caring and donating their time. But the modern hospital volunteer fills many other rewarding and sometimes surprising roles.

dsc_4336These days, candy striper outfits only see the light of day at Halloween parties, but most hospitals do require volunteers to wear uniforms that allow them to be easily identified. In spite of the lack of financial compensation, there are many ways that volunteering in a hospital can be rewarding. Men and women of all ages and walks of life are participating in this vital and generous form of volunteer work. They are vibrant, productive and priceless assets in the health care world.

The American Hospital Association’s website mentions a host of volunteer roles that many of us have never imagined. One hospital uses volunteer doulas, trained professionals who provide hands-on physical and psychological support during and just after birth: or who provide emotional and practical support during the postpartum period. That hospital estimates that 23 percent of its 1,500 births annually are attended by volunteer doulas.

And volunteers need not be involved directly with patients. In other hospitals and outpatient facilities, volunteer artists have painted calming scenes on ceiling tiles, providing creative art as a distraction for patients awaiting procedures, lying in hospital beds or undergoing other tests and therapies, as well as for families sitting in waiting rooms.

In another setting, volunteers staff a freestanding bookstore in the center of the hospital, which lends and re-sells new or gently used books and uses the proceeds to fund scholarships for the hospital’s teen storycatcher-1-3volunteers.

A meaningful project for writers is practiced in a hospital where volunteers obtain the life
stories of patients and share them with hospital staff, physicians, family and friends. The stories or poems capture the essence of the patients’ lives and allow patients to restore and/or enhance their relationships with loved ones.

Examples of many more hospital volunteer job descriptions are listed on the Sutter Health Memorial Medical Center website:
http://www.memorialmedicalcenter.org/community/Volunteer/Volunteerservices.html

Breach CoverIn Breach of Ethics, book three of the Aimee Machado mysteries, two senior volunteers, a widow and a widower, find satisfaction and purpose by volunteering in Aimee’s domain, the hospital library. The volunteers work their shifts on alternate days, but their common interest in the library soon brings them close together and promises to light up their golden years.

HOSPITAL PHOBIA: WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

When you anticipate a trip to the hospital, does your pulse quicken? Does your blood pressure rise? Does your throat go dry with dread? Then you’re probably hospital-phobic.DSC_4332 When I set out to write this post, I did an online search of the term hospital phobia and found 480,000 results. I knew the phobia was real, but I didn’t know it had a name. The medical term for this condition is a mouthful. It’s called nosocomephobia.

What is it that strikes fear in the heart? What causes that panicky sensation? If you’re about to be admitted as a patient, it may be the latest headline about deaths caused by medical errors. If you’re a visitor, it may be something as simple as the thought of all those nasty germs floating around. Ick!

Even worse, you just watched a TV show about a crazed shooter running amok in the corridors of a hospital.

So what are you to do? If you’re a potential patient, you need to be admitted. Your appendix is about to burst, and it isn’t going to heal itself. Or perhaps your loved-one is in the hospital, needing you there by his or her side. You have little choice but to face your fear and go into that terrifying place filled with germs and other potential threats.

Let me try to reassure you. I worked in an acute care hospital for seven years. My administrative position sent me to every floor and every department in the hospital complex. The worst danger I faced in all of that time was . . .

Actually, I’m having trouble thinking of even one example, but I can think of endless examples of how hospital administration and staff are involved in keeping patients and visitors safe.

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The welfare of patients involves a complex system of safety protocols designed to cover not just the care provided by physicians and nurses, but by every department and hospital worker. These include: emergency, pharmacy, radiology, pathology, dietary, infection control, and many more. Safety protocols are in place for every aspect of patient care.

But what about the safety of visitors? How are they being protected? From fire? From shooters? From other disasters? Fire and disaster drills are conducted regularly. Each department knows its procedures and assigned duties, and stands ready to assist. Hospital security protocols are in place, and personnel are constantly on alert for the very rare occasion when a patient or visitor becomes unruly or dangerous. As an added protection, more and more hospitals are requiring visitors to show photo ID and wear a visitor’s badge during their visit.

If you’re hospital-phobic, don’t give up or give in. There are treatments that can help. You can find a wealth of helpful information by doing a search using the key words hospital phobia.

Here is just one of the 480,000 links I found for information about this condition.

http://www.allaboutcounseling.com/library/nosocomephobia/

Book 3 Cover00020002In BREACH OF ETHICS, the third book in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, the issue of patient and visitor safety is on the mind of Timbergate Medical Center Administrator Jared Quinn. His concern for the wellbeing of patients and visitors results in a locked room murder mystery for Aimee and her team of amateur sleuths to solve.

The first three books in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, published by Camel Press, are available in print and eBook formats from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or by request from your local bookstore.

 

Library Crimes and Misdemeanors

There was a time when the last word we would associate with libraries was crime. Then along came the movie Foul Play, where countless attacks were made on the life of Gloria, the librarian played by Goldie Hawn. The creepiest scene for me was when she was stalked through the stacks in a closed and darkened library. Although most librarians won’t encounter that situation, there are a variety of different crimes that take place in libraries, some creepier than others.

Overdue Items: What might be a simple, easily-corrected oversight sometimes escalates into something worse. More than one librarian has been verbally assaulted by a patron for upholding the policy of refusing to allow more checkouts until fines are paid and/or overdue items are returned. The level of threatening language can require intervention by campus security guards or even local police.

Theft:  This one is a real crime. Patrons take a locked DVD from the shelves, hide in a corner of the library, and pry at the DVD case downloaduntil it opens, then steal the disc, and then toss the broken jacket. To steal a magazine or book, some patrons become savvy enough to figure out where the security strips are adhered to the item. They rip off the strip, then walk through the magnetic gates with the item concealed in a backpack and never trigger the alarm.

Squatters: Some patrons love the library so much they never want to leave. They hide in dark corners until after closing and then spend the night. It might take several days for librarians discover they have an unwanted “house guest.”

Porn: It’s always an unpleasant task for the person on duty in the computer lab to ask patrons who are surfing porn sites to either cease and desist or leave the library.

X-rated Behavior:  One staffer was startled when she went to check that all patrons had left the library at closing time, only to discover a couple having sex under a table in one of the study rooms. Public indecency sounds about right in that case.

Physical Assault: One young woman ignored the no food or drink rule and brought a plate full of chili fries into the library to give to her boyfriend, who was studying there. The library director stopped her, explained that she couldn’t take the food into that area of the library. She responded by throwing the chili fries on the floor and throwing a punch at the director. The punch connected, the director called police, and the girlfriend ended up in court.

Shooters: This is the crime we hope we’ll never witness. I suspect every library has a procedure in place. Where I worked, we all had assigned tasks in the event we were alerted to a potential shooter or any other similar threat on campus. One staffer would make an announcement alerting patrons and giving instructions; others would lock all of the exterior doors. Patrons would be led into an inner room where they would remain behind locked doors until the threat had passed. The one time our library went on lockdown, our bad guy was a disgruntled fellow who wielded a knife and made ominous threats toward an employee in an adjacent building. He was eventually chased down by security personnel. Police arrived, he was dispatched, and the lockdown was lifted. Our library patrons quickly went back to their computers and books, seeming unfazed.

In spite of the above, I still believe libraries are safe havens, and perhaps the most important institutions in our lives and in the lives of people throughout the world. Where would humanity be without them?