Health care volunteers make patients feel better every day. I'm always impressed by the generosity of their time and talent to their respective organizations.
Some of the best moments I've shared with volunteers were during a program that I developed for young children and families, designed to help them feel more comfortable in a hospital environment.
The program was called POP, the pre-hospitalization orientation program. During this class, children would learn about patient care in a therapeutic play setting, using child-safe medical equipment on large, stuffed animals.
Our mascot, CC Beary, was a volunteer who donned a cozy bear costume and passed out snacks at the conclusion of the program. Teens typically volunteered to play CC Beary, and it was rewarding to see them so enthused.
The vital roles volunteers play in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care systems cannot be underestimated. I recall one patient telling me that a volunteer's smile and kind words made her day.
From introducing a smile into a patient's day to escorting patients to their car upon discharge, trained volunteers are ready to fulfill duties that often would take an extra hand by hospital staff.
Not long ago, I was approached by a volunteer clown dressed in cheerful clothing offering me her version of a "Beanie baby" - a painted, dry bean with a tiny swatch of pink fabric for a diaper. "It's a girl," she announced, with a giggle.
Volunteers deliver fun, flowers, crafts, reading material, snacks and guide patients and families through a maze of paperwork and unfamiliar settings.
They work side by side with staff to assist with therapeutic recreation and perform a bevy of tasks, from paperwork to answering phones.
Volunteers may be easily recognized by the colorful smocks or jackets they wear, a name pin and an eagerness to help. Sometimes, however, volunteers wear "collars." Not the kind of collar on a shirt, but the kind worn by volunteer therapy dogs.
Now and then I'll see a "furry" volunteer working magic by extending a paw to a patient. Inker, from Trinitas Hospital in Jew Jersey, was one of those dogs.
Lisa Liss, director of volunteers for Trinitas, said Inker was a faithful, loving, caring dog who developed a bond with patients who had cancer, until his death in April.
"He commiserated with patients and eventually had a common bond with them when he was diagnosed with canine lymphoma," Liss said.
Inker's owner and handler, Pat Dobson, took her lovable, nine-year old golden retriever for weekly chemotherapy treatments at the Animal Medical Center, affiliated with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center. Inker bonded with patients receiving outpatient chemotherapy, lending a paw or a furry head to pet.
Liss said even in the last two weeks of Inker's life, he brought in his own brand of cheer to patients, logging in more than 1,000 visits during his lifetime.
Human or canine, it's absolutely amazing the number of hours worked by volunteers and the joy they bring to patients, families and staff.
To learn more about volunteering and how you can put your time and talent to work, contact your local health care facility, nursing home or veterans' center. To see photos of Inker, check out the Web site www.trinitashospital.org/inker.asp.
Linda Kay Goodwin, RN, BSN, MBA, is a nationally award-winning columnist and recipient of the American Academy of Nursing Media Award for Excellence in the presentation of Health Care Information to the Public. She is employed by Mount Nittany Medical Center and West Virginia University Medical Center.