Monday, February 21, 2011

El Camino, The Way

There is nothing quite so scary as a teenager begging to be taken the hospital "right away, Mom!" I had a feeling something wasn't quite right with Grace on Wednesday when she was throwing up all night, and I had a distinct impression to go back home mid-way through my work on Thursday. "Just in time," the surgeon said later as he came out of the operating room, "One more day and that infected appendix would have burst." For all the anxiety surrounding an emergency appendectomy, I felt blessed to be in a country with fabulous medical care. My daughter would be able to come home in time for a special family weekend with her sister and her niece visiting--the wonders of modern science!

El Camino Hospital was the place where I was born, the location of my father's untimely passing at age 39, and my community
connection when I volunteered as a candy-striper to find out if my passion was physical therapy. I hadn't spent much time there since high school, other than a couple of ER visits for Grace's recent ear infections. Our surgery experience this President's Day weekend provided healing to my soul, in addition to my daughter's health. The "pink ladies," as the adult volunteers are still called, greeted us warmly in the lobby and offered directions. Maybe their kindness helped me maintain perspective. When the admitting clerk and the floor supervisor began sparring over duties and couldn't figure out why they had no record of my daughter being sent there by the surgeon, I assertively called the doctor's office from my cell phone instead of coming unglued and snapping at the should-be-retired front desk clerk.

"Mom, how can I get involved in the community?" I asked during my lonely junior year at Homestead High School. My mom told me how much she had enjoyed her time working as a pink lady at Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City, so I gave it a try. When the PSAT results came back and the career wheel matched my scores with physical therapy or interior design, I asked the volunteer supervisor to change my assignment from delivering books and wheelchairs to helping in the rehab department. After working with a particular patient who was sorry she was still alive, I decided to keep my options open. However, I got to spend every week in the rehab wing, and to truly understand what it takes to be a successful physical or occupational therapist. Service not only brought me out of my self-absorbed-sixteen-year-old shell, but also gave me direction to pursue and a sense of purpose while in college. I did end up majoring at first in Pre-Occupational Therapy (would have been a great job), but changed to Interior Design (a fine fit).

As the nurses and pink ladies attended to my daughter and my family this weekend, I felt renewed by the generous spirits at El Camino Hospital. Even though I didn't pursue that first career path from my high school experience, I had felt empowered from reaching out through volunteering and helping others. I saw so many people that had worse lives than mine--some who would stay in the hospital for a very long time. Some like my dad, who wouldn't make it home. I learned to be grateful in giving.

The facilities have grown, making my old aggregate stone and brick birthplace barely recognizable. The interiors have benefited from talented design professionals with a flair for healthcare spaces. The lobby and corridors are colorful with original artwork, even graced at times with volunteer musicians playing the piano or guitar. I was looking for the candy-stripers, but didn't see them this weekend. However, the pink lady who wheeled my daughter out to the car sent us home with a tiny handmade crane glued to a card from the hospital auxiliary with 1,000 healing wishes. Perhaps the candy-stripers help to make those cranes. I hope there are some teenagers who find their connection and their path through El Camino, like I did. It has become more than a place for medical care for me, it is a symbol of healing
, and The Way to a good life.

Interested in Helping with Healthcare?

Try these cool connections...
  • Contact your local hospital's volunteer coordinator. Some hospitals have background checks and waiting lists, but if you are patient you will find an opportunity. You might also consider offering to share specific talents, instead of a regular shift: music, crafts, card games. (Some of our high school students started a poker club at a rest home, so be creative!)
  • Contact the fire department to see if they have an EMT Explorers program. You will ride along as a trained volunteer to respond to emergencies.
  • Contact a health clinic in your area for volunteer opportunities and/or a Medical Explorers program. On the Peninsula/Bay Area, Palo Alto Medical Foundation (Palo Alto office) has a monthly program for high school and college students.

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