From Children’s Hospital Patient to Volunteer

19 Feb

When I was younger, I was a competitive soccer player. My entire family was a soccer family–my brother and my sister play competitively, and my father was my soccer coach. I remember feeling happiest when I put on my cleats and walked onto the soccer field. Soccer was my solace; it was such an integral part of who I was as a person.

However, in 8th grade, at the start of my competitive season, I started having medical symptoms that forced me to miss class and soccer practice. I ended up begin admitted as a patient to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. To say that it was one of the scariest times for me and my family is an understatement. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make it through without my parents and their endless support, but the nurses also made a huge impact. I remember one instance of being so heavily nauseated that I pressed the nurse call button to get a bed pan to throw up in. My mom had left to grab food, and the nurse willingly stayed with me and was there for me as I threw up. Although I cannot remember her name, it is something I will never forget, and something that sparked a fire in my passion to become a pediatrics nurse. I had a muscle biopsy, a few inpatient hospital stays, and many cardiology and neurology appointments. My experience really inspired me.

After high school, I applied to participate in Phoenix Children’s Hospital as a summer intensive volunteer. This was 100 hours a summer, which equated to 4 shifts a week. I was chosen to become a volunteer, and was assigned the areas of pediatric playrooms, outpatient rehabilitation, and animal-assisted therapy. Not a lot of volunteers chose to work with animal-assisted therapy, but because of my personal experiences with it during my hospitalization phase, I knew how beneficial and inspiring it was to receive a visit from a dog during a time of stress and uncertainty.

I eventually went on to the roles of nurse assistant and neonatal intensive care unit cuddler, but I always kept a shift with animal-assisted therapy. To see a child go from dim and unsmiling to cheerful and bright is truly a sight I will never forget. To this day, it is hard to describe what this experience has meant to me. When I was a patient in the hospital back in 2006, a therapy dog named Molly visited me and I got to keep a Polaroid picture of it. I remember how much the dog made my entire hospital experience. Turns out that a random shift I decided to cover was the SAME dog and owner. When Molly walked into the room that day, needless to say I freaked out and began explaining to her owner how much her work and Molly’s work meant to me, and helped influence me in my giving to others today. It was honestly one of the most beautiful experiences, and it was nice to see my painful childhood medical experiences come full circle with doing work for others in similar positions.

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I was chosen to be a Shift Leader during last summer’s volunteer program. During these shifts, I assisted younger volunteers in their tasks tasks and mentored them through the process of volunteering. This upcoming summer, I will be helping to pilot a new version of the same Shift Leader position. I have made my mark on Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where I sincerely hope to work one day. But not only did I help plenty of others while volunteering, the experience helped me as well. It solidified my career pursuit of nursing. Volunteering became my outlet; it became what soccer once was to me.

–Sarah

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