Sunday, September 26, 2010


Suzy Housecoat... IN HER OWN WORDS

My first volunteer job was with the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program. It is a program that has breast cancer survivors visit with newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. It used to be a much bigger program, but through time, hospitals have been getting better at dealing with this sort of thing and now most of them have their own support groups and the like.

Suzy.... beauty, brains and a big heart

Over the past couple of years I've had very few calls. The ACS does a recertification workshop for us every year and that's always nice because we get together and talk about breast cancer issues, but as a volunteer opportunity, it's been pretty disappointing.

Next, I got involved in volunteering at a local hospital in May of 2009. I worked in their Heart and Vascular building with 4-5 others. We discharge patients, take specimens to the lab and run any other errands that are needed. Every once in a while, it can get very busy or even a bit dramatic, helping people get to the ER or even having emotional conversations with people leaving the hospital who have just gotten very bad news about tests that are done.

I really like the people I worked with who range in age from 50-87. The 87 year old is an amazing man - still very active and clear as a bell - great sense of humor too. The hospital auxiliary is instrumental in raising money for the hospital and has made huge contributions. This is the biggest hospital in the northern part of my state. They really depend so much on their volunteers.

And finally, in May 2010, I began to volunteer for a hospice program in the next state. There were a series of training workshops first, which I found very interesting and helpful. I was assigned to an elderly woman who is in an assisted care facility. Actually, she is receiving total care, at this point. She has 2 daughters in their 50s - one lives up north and tries to come and visit when she can, but she works full time and it is difficult. The other daughter has MS and is in a wheelchair. My patient lived with the daughter who has MS.

The daughter runs a business from her home and her mother helped her with the business and prepared meals, etc. The mother had been absolutely fine until having a sudden massive heart attack in April. She was hospitalized, in a coma, on a respirator and they thought she wouldn't make it, but she did and came off the respirator. She's not the same as she was, is bedridden and has short term memory problems. But she knows what's going on and is very depressed and worried about her daughter and her own health problems.

She has progressive gangrene of her feet due to circulatory difficulties, little appetite and is fading away. She is so sad and cries every time I visit. I see her every week and call her daughter after my visit. I act as another set of eyes for her daughters when they can't be there. My job is to visit the nursing home and be a support for her daughter as best I can. I try to get there at lunch time so I can help out with feeding her. It is a very intense and emotional situation. There are financial and insurance issues and all kinds of things they are dealing with. I feel bad for all of them.

Between the two volunteer jobs, the fact that two of my kids are living at home, caring for my parents, and taking occasional art classes, I am very busy! I can't say it wouldn't be nice to be working and earning a paycheck...but there are definite rewards to volunteering and I am very glad to be able to be of some use to the community.

So much suffering out there - so many people are dealing with awful things and going through it all alone...If there's any possibility that I can make a difference, I am glad to at least try. Not sure if all this would make a good blogging story. I am not a hero - just an ordinary person who feels good being useful. People are so appreciative of any little thing...

Editor's note:

I've known Suzy Housecoat for more than 10 years but we've only met through the words we've exchanged over the years via the internet. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and what she's gone through in life. When she tells me that I'm wrong on something, I listen, because I respect her wisdom.

She is an amateur photographer and recently began  taking painting and drawing classes, which take up much of her time. She and her husband also travel the world frequently.

Suzy is a breast cancer survivor. She has had a number of careers. Wife, mother, and registered nurse. A few years ago, she went back to school to become certified as a science teacher and taught for a few years. And now she volunteers. When I asked her if I could feature her, she was reluctant, mostly because she doesn't think she is a hero, but is just doing practical things to make a difference in this world. She inspires me. I made some changes to her story to make sure the privacy of the patients she assists are protected.

Suzy Housecoat isn't her real name. She is in the Federal Volunteer Protection Program.

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