I’ve never been one of those people that has to be busy every minute of the day. In fact, I would say I have probably been the exact opposite—if I didn’t have to go to work every day, my living room would be a re-creation of Jabba’s palace. In other words, I am perfectly happy sitting on the couch and watching television while the world goes on around me. Sometimes I can be persuaded into reading a book or two instead, but that doesn’t happen for me so much anymore. Not enough good books to read? Sure, let’s go with that.
This isn’t behavior that I just kind of fell into as I was getting older. I’ve never really been one to do much unless my parents were insisting that I had to. Case in point, I never would have been a librarian if my dad hadn’t been the one to tell me about a job opening one of the branches had for a position re-shelving books. My dilemma: The Disney Store or the library? Hmmm, it was a tough one. My dad isn’t exactly one that you say no to, so I tried for the library position and I got it. Who knew where it was going to lead? I have to say that I am eternally grateful for him pushing me to that job. Heaven knows I didn’t really appreciate it back then. I kind of just wanted him to leave me alone. (I’m so glad he never did.)
It was also a known fact that I was going to go to college. It wasn’t like, “Oh, what an interesting idea. Let me think on that, father, and I will let you know my decision after I have weighed all of the pros and cons.” Not even close. It was much more, “Yes, I have looked at scholarships. Yes, I have put in some college applications. Yes, I am going to be a teacher! Yes. Yes. Yes!” My last year of high school was a combination of wanting to spend as much time with my friends as I could and a marathon to the finish line with visits to the counselor’s office, writing essays, and taking the ACT test.
I had enough going on in my life already, so I have no real idea of why I decided I wanted to volunteer as a Candy Striper at a local hospital. It’s hard to really remember now, but I think it probably had something to do with the fact that I had so little extracurricular activities to pad my apps and I thought it looked really easy. I only needed to go in for a few hours every week and I got to wear a rocking uniform! I’d like to say that I was being sarcastic there, but I really did like the uniform. Made me feel important and bona fide. Ha! It really just made me look like a walking candy cane, but, whatever, it was cool to me.
Being the shy, bashful person I was back then (and only back then—I don’t think anyone I know would use those adjectives to describe me now) it is amazing that I was persuaded to be a Candy Striper. If I had known how much time I would have to walk around and talk to complete strangers I probably would have fled the country. Perhaps it’s mean for me to say, but I really didn’t like being near sick people because I thought I would catch would they had and I didn’t want to be around old people because I couldn’t understand what they were saying and they wanted to talk to me FOR-EVER! After two shifts at the hospital I was ready to quit. But then I discovered (and embraced) the silver lining…the hospital cafeteria.
You might be thinking, “Ooh, gross–hospital food!” and you’d probably be right, but I didn’t care. Every shift I worked, I got a free meal. It was like winning the lottery. We didn’t get to eat out much at my house so being able to count on this one meal became my reason for volunteering. I still remember my favorite thing to order—a double cheeseburger and fries. I can actually smell the grease as I write this down. (I’ve already asked for a therapist, right?) Someone might suffer if I couldn’t get my job done timely and correctly, but all I could think about was food. It’s kind of become a recurring theme in my life.
I began to rush through my rounds so that I could go eat. I had one person who was supposed to monitor me, but I rarely saw her around and I forgot that she even had a say in what I was going to be doing for my shift each night. I’d clock in, rush around refilling water jugs and hand out Jello cups, popsicles, or these tiny cans of soda to patients and then run down to the cafeteria to get my dinner, carry it up to the volunteer break room and grab whatever romance novel I brought from home that my mom had left lying around. Ahhhh.
My “volunteering” continued this way for a month or so, until THE INCIDENT (or INCIDENTS—I’ll let you decide) that I rank as the most embarrassing moment(s) of my life. As you have probably read some of my other stories, you might take that statement with a grain of salt, but, I assure you, I have never, ever forgotten that day or the way it made me feel. Stupid is just about the worst thing someone could say about me, and I felt a million kinds of stupid by the end of that day.
I was about halfway through my rounds when I came across a young man, probably in his 20’s with his leg in a cast that was hanging about six inches off of the bed. Let me repeat: his foot was not completely on the bed. This is a very important fact of this story. The other important fact is that I was his Candy Striper. (I know that you can see where this is going.)
It was all innocent enough. I mean, all I was doing was cleaning up his food tray when I asked him if he wanted some fresh water. He was pretty much, “Sure, whatever.” Unfortunately, I was in a strange mental place of extreme nervousness (there were about six family members crammed in the room) and extreme impatience (my burger was waiting for me). If you have ever been in a hospital room that has two beds, one patient and six family members, you know there wasn’t exactly a lot of room for one to maneuver. Sigh.
As I was walk/rushing to the bathroom I had no clear path to take so I tried to slide between someone I suspect was his mother, and his foot. I tripped. (Complete shocker, right?) The water went flying all over the wall and the carpet and I landed on his leg. My entire upper body was draped over his leg.
Now, do I know what injury he had to his leg? I don’t. Was it a little fracture or was it a torn ACL? I mean, I just didn’t know. But I landed on it and he was in pain and it was one of those situations when you’re like, Uh, whaa, what do I do? What do I say, How do I move on from this moment? I hastily pulled myself up and told him I was sorry. So sorry. I continued on into the bathroom to get more water. What was I supposed to do?
When I was locked in there, I took a second and splashed water in my face. I dried myself off and I calmed myself down and I thought, “I am just going to get the hell out of this room. I don’t want anybody to look at me and I won’t look at them. I’m going to do this shit and then I am going to get out.” I walked back out there and, I swear to God, I tripped and landed on his effing leg again. Oh, yes I did.
Now, I don’t know why I’m still alive right now, because I know that if that would have been my son’s leg, and I was watching somebody maim my child, I probably would have freaked out. But, they were very, uh, quiet about it. There was a lot of staring at me, my head, my back…because there was no way I was going to looking anybody in the eye at this point. I stared at my feet and I apologized and I crept out of the room like the lowest form of human being that had ever been seen before. And I have never, ever forgotten that day. I never did run and ask for help and the family never did call anyone to complain. I still wonder why they didn’t come after me. After this disaster I couldn’t even muster up enough enthusiasm for my dinner. My volunteering days were basically over.
Time has passed very quickly and I have had MANY embarrassing moments, in fact it’s almost a requirement of my character that somebody sees me doing or hears me saying something questionable at least once a day. But that fiasco was beyond embarrassing–it was mortification. Of course, being of much higher age and level of maturity (ahem) I realize everything that I did wrong that day. At the very least, I should have been there for the right reasons. But, I suppose everyone has their selfish years…
Luckier than some people, I have only had a few occasions to find myself in a hospital setting again. And in those instances I haven’t seen a single Candy Striper. If any other volunteers treated their jobs the way that I did, I guess it makes sense that the practice was stopped (if it was). I did manage to get into college and win a small scholarship, but I doubt my two months of hospital volunteer work made much of an impact on my acceptance.
Since that experience I have learned to take pride in my work and to be really mentally present when working face to face with people. I really wish (really, really wish) it hadn’t happened but it set me straight about quite a few things. My brain won’t let me forget that day and I worry about it often. I just hope that the young man healed quickly and didn’t mentally castigate me too many times. I’ve done that enough times for both of us.
© DRB 2015
Main photo: www.polyvore.com