When I was 14 years old, my friend Cindy and I signed up to volunteer as Candy Stripers at a local hospital. Each weekend we’d report for duty. We were never assigned to work together — somehow, they knew we should be separated.
At the end of each day, we’d compare stories. And boy did we have stories. My only regret is that I never kept a journal.
One of my jobs was to go room-to-room with a cart that contained items from the gift shop (candy, magazines, personal care items, etc.). One patient, an older woman, asked if there were slippers on the cart. There were.
She asked if I’d help her try them on. I agreed. When I brought the slippers to her, she lifted up her gown and extended her legs. But, Oh my God!, she didn’t need to lift up her gown that far. My 14-year-old eyes were burning!
Somehow I kept my composure, got the slippers on her feet, made the sale and went on my merry way. [In later years, when I was telling my friend that story she replied “She had no feet?” Which made it even funnier. I guess I didn’t tell the story quite right.]
Between the two of us, my friend Cindy was the bubbly one… cute as a button. It even said so in her personal file. Not that we peeked or anything. 😉 And when she had “candy cart duty” the old men would hit on her. Where have you been all my life, sweetheart? they’d ask, with their dirty old man smiles …and never mind the marriage proposals!
Over the course of two years a lot happened…
One time I was admitting a patient and couldn’t find his room. I had this poor man walking all over the hospital. Unfortunately — he was a heart patient — and my dad’s boss!
I became accustom to the man on the 2nd floor who yelled vulgar obscenities due to Tourette’s Syndrome, saw way too many naked old people, and a young mother gave me the blow-by-blow details of her home birth.
One patient asked me to be her “look out” and watch for the yellow get-away car, and another accused me of drinking her juice…then spitting back in the cup to cover my tracks. True story. But poor Cindy. She witnessed the worst of them all. She saw a a fellow candy striper slip and fall in a pile of…. well, you know.
But at the end of each day, Cindy and I would have quiet time. We’d sit and visit with the elderly in the Extended Care Unit. They couldn’t be placed in a nursing home because of their extensive medical conditions. I think the patients and candy stripers mutually enjoyed each other’s company.
And we definitelyl learned some life lessons too. Some things that can scare a young teen, became so familiar to us. We learned how to stay calm, and have what I think is called… compassion. Someday, we may be here, ya know?
To this day, hospitals don’t scare me. Not everything is sunshine and roses. We get sick, we grow old…we just need people to be there for us along the way.
Even now, 35 years later, when Cindy and I are out with the girls — if we excuse ourselves from the table you often hear us say “Gotta Peeeeee!” as those were the words of one of our most beloved patients, and will forever be embedded in our brains…. and her, in our hearts.