Lets face it, most of us despise Mondays. We return to work after a relaxing weekend with trepidation about what that week might bring. The onslaught of challenging assignments, patients and family members in crisis, a plethora of meetings, and long hours can be mentally exhausting. The first day of the week often is the most difficult to navigate. But on the stroke unit at Abington (Pa.) Memorial Hospital, it was quite the contrary.
Charles, our hospital volunteer, would be waiting promptly at 7 a.m. every Monday for each one of us to arrive. He always emanated a warm and affectionate smile that radiated optimism. He took personal pride in his role as a volunteer. His red jacket was neatly pressed, adorned with all of the honors he had earned throughout his years of service.
Charles was a humble man, always concerned for every one except himself. He took personal interest in every persons life, regardless of the persons job title. After Charles greeted us on Mondays, smiles became infectious and his spirit brought levity and lightness to every person on our unit.
The volunteers job description is to carry out delegated tasks. But Charles contributed much more than that. He touched many lives throughout his daily journeys. It was not unusual to see Charles in the hospital at night, conversing with patients who asked for him. I knew as well as any employee of the stroke unit that Charles was a large part of the glue that held our spirit, character, and fortitude together.
Sadly, Charles was diagnosed with a terminal illness. But even when he became ill, he never missed a Monday. He openly shared details of his failing health with the staff.
Unsolicited, the staff rallied around him. It was now our turn to take care of our angel, Charles. When he was wheelchair-bound in his last month of life, the employees took turns ensuring Charles completed his commitments. During his last few weeks, staff would take him to the cafeteria so he could enjoy lunch with his fellow volunteers, and take him home at the end of his shift. Without hesitation, nurses would help him get to his medical appointments. We took him out to dinner on occasion. We all wished we could have done more.
Charles accepted the support graciously and enjoyed and savored the individual conversations we had with him while transferring him to his destinations.
Charles passed away peacefully at home with his two children. When he died, a piece of us went with him. Our unit felt a tremendous void, mourning not just a volunteer but a great man. We wanted to provide closure and at the same time celebrate his life. So we decided to hold a memorial service on our unit that the entire interdisciplinary team could attend. Our chaplain presided over a short but powerful service with an autumnal theme. We each spoke about Charles and how he affected our lives. He showed us how one person can make a remarkable difference.
A week after the service, there was a knock on our stroke program coordinators door. It was a young man with a warm smile similar to Charles. He had been a patient on our unit and the experience was so positive that he wanted to provide others with the same hope that was given to him. We believe somehow Charles had something to do with the arrival of the new volunteer, as if it were the one last deed he needed to accomplish.
Pamela Cottman, RN, BSN, is nurse manager on the neurology/neurosurgical unit at Abington (Pa.) Memorial Hospital.Pamela Cottman, RN