by Nate Balmert, Precious Blood Volunteer
“I appreciate your listening to my story,” a patient said Thursday morning. With these words, she summarized succinctly my volunteer experience. On one level, I have listened to people’s stories and it is rewarding to know I am appreciated. Not only listening to plenty of storytelling, but seeing and talking with people, as well as understanding people’s lives and the obstacles they face. On another level, I have appreciated the act of listening, too.
Being a volunteer, I am in a unique position to listen, especially in comparison to hospital staff. Ever since I started, I made a point to focus on what I knew: the tangible physical and emotional support I could provide patients and hospital staff. I attended patients who are losing their medical capacities, who speak a foreign language, and who call out for help frequently. Nurses have 3-5 patients to help on any particular day, and must manage their time accordingly. As a volunteer, I was responsible for any and all of the patients on the floor.
I had the luxury to worry about everything. I could listen to patient’s stories—I might even call it a privilege. This isn’t to say nurses or doctors are not able to listen. But I was able to focus on this task.
I was impressed by the connection the nurses had for one particular patient who suffered from a stroke. He improved markedly during his time at Truman and it was amazing to see him stand up and hug us goodbye as he left. He and the nurses cried as the next chapter in his recovery began. The nurses planned to visit him at the new facility; one even came in on his off day to see this patient leave. I had not imagined such emotion and personal connection, especially when so many patients need extra help. I can safely say I will remember this experience forever.
I am also impressed by the patient’s perspective and resilience. It reminds me of a verse from Philippians that a friend sent me. Paul writes about how they must make the Gospel their own and no earthly status is as valuable as knowing Christ (Phil 3:7-11).
It is not often at Truman I hear someone complain about their misfortune or how many hours they work. Patients came after losing everything or after a traumatic experience. One co-worker corrected me when I wished her good luck at the end of the day, and said, “I don’t need luck. I have God.” Her optimism struck me, and she was not the only one. On the elevator and in the hallways, people responded to, “How are you?” with, “I am blessed.” As Paul says, becoming like Christ means identifying His suffering in our misfortune. It also means realizing our happiness need not depend on our earthly condition.
Based on their strong faith and my comparative good fortune, I have felt blessed as a result of my volunteer experience. Patients who sustain injury invariably regain their spirits. At first, I would be distracted by injury and illness, but now I focus on the health or sadness visible in their face. In my reading, I’ve seen it said people often misjudge how pain or injury would affect their happiness. They find afterward it is not as bad as they thought it would be.
The nurses wished me goodbye at the end of the day with the same refrain (after, “It’s already time for you to go?”), “Thanks for your help today.” I will remember when the patients said: “I appreciate you.” One repeat patient would add, “Don’t think I don’t because I do.” If I see him again, I will say, “I relish being able to help you.”