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How Volunteering at a Children's Hospital Changed My Perspective of Chronic Illness


A precocious little girl I had been playing games and drawing pictures with came running off of the elevators right behind me and loudly yelled down the hallway, “Thank you for being so nice to me! Can I give you a hug?’’ My eyes began to fill with tears as I said, “Of course you can.” She excitedly ran to the end of the hallway and met me with the biggest hug. This is when I knew that volunteering at the children’s hospital was what I was supposed to be doing.

You see, this hospital was not a new sight for me. In fact, it was very familiar. Before I even began the volunteer tour, I reluctantly had to walk past the cardiology wing. I took a deep breath as if I were getting ready to dive head first into a swimming pool. Memories began to flood my mind. After a minute or so I was able to breathe a sigh of relief – something that I had never done before. My heart condition made me a frequent visitor to this hospital – bounded by appointments and emergency room visits. In that moment, I was released from those memories as I embarked on this new mission.

Everyday was filled with excitement and enthusiasm. I was able to work in the oncology department, child life department, surgery waiting area, the emergency room and so many more places. I found so much joy in interacting and being tangible with these amazing kids. They made me change my perspective on living with an illness. When I worked in the child life department (which was my favorite) we got to rock it out on “Just Dance” – and let me tell you, these kids can dance! I played house and made many drawings with them. Working in the surgery lounge, however, was a different atmosphere. But again, this was an atmosphere that I had experienced before. There were many worried parents and grandparents waiting for their children to come out of surgery. Everyday I thought about my journey through heart surgery and was reminded to help them in any way possible.

I can’t express how much this was a life-altering experience. I prayed for these kids everyday, and still do. These kids were so full of wonder and light in spite of battling through a tough diagnosis. I often thought about a quote from Dr. Arizona Robbins from the show Grey’s Anatomy, “These are the tiny humans. These are children. They believe in magic. They play pretend. There is fairy dust in their IV bags. They hope, and they cross their fingers, and they make wishes, and that makes them more resilient than adults. They recover faster, survive worse. They believe.”

I believe that there are so many ways that we can turn our pain into something good. Even if you are going through a hard time with illness, reaching out a helping hand can be just what the doctor ordered.

 Getty Image by XiXinXing