I volunteer at my local hospital. I’m known as the “patient visitations” volunteer but I have many names. Nurses and doctors who have known me for a while and know what I do say, “Here comes the magazine lady.”
Personally, I like to call myself, “the unexpected visitor.”
At the hospital, I knock on a patient’s door. When I hear “come in,” I enter with a big smile on my face as I say, “Hi, my name is Rachael. I volunteer here. Would you like a magazine? It’s free.”
Patients are often surprised when I say that – for a couple of reasons. One reason is that they can’t believe something free is being offered to them. Once a patient answered, “What a delight.”
The other reason people are often surprised is because I’m in a wheelchair, and I have cerebral palsy. Many people are surprised by the fact that someone with a disability is out in the community, let alone out contributing to society. They wonder how I can help others when it looks as if I need help myself. They might also wonder why I’d want to help others. No one says anything, but it’s obvious that people don’t know how to react because I’m in a wheelchair. Silently, their first reaction seems to be, What is she doing here?
My wheelchair starts conversation. People will ask, “What kind of illness do you have?”
“It’s not an illness,” I tell them. “It’s a condition. It’s called cerebral palsy. I was born this way. I have a walker at home. I use the wheelchair in the community for faster mobility.”
People are also surprised by my openness and my ability to communicate. It makes them want to know more. A doctor may have told their patient that they’re going to have to start using a wheelchair at home. They’ve never had to use a wheelchair before, and now they want to know what it’s like.
“It takes a lot of practice,” I tell them. “It’s like learning how to drive a car. Even if you’ve been driving for years, every time you get a new car, you have to learn how that particular one works because each one is different. It takes time and patience. But once you get the hang of it, you can do it.”
At the end of a visit people are encouraged. Seeing me in my wheelchair often gives patients and their families the assurance they need that everything is going to be okay. Many times someone will say to me, “Thanks for coming by.”
“You’re welcome.” I reply. “I’m glad to be of service.”
People also say, “God Bless you.”
I smile and say, “Thank you.”
Volunteering at the hospital reminds me to be thankful for what I have. Some patients I visit don’t have any family at all, or their families live too far away to come visit them. I may be the only person they see besides a doctor or a nurse. If they want to talk, I’m usually the only one who has time to sit and listen to them. For these patients I call myself, “the unexpected visitor.” If I didn’t come visit them, who would? I’m able to brighten someone else’s day. It’s my pleasure.
Volunteering at the hospital and visiting patients also gives me a sense of fulfillment. People are always looking for ways to help me because of my disability. When I’m volunteering, it’s the other way around. I’m able to show them that having a disability doesn’t mean they can’t be a productive member of society. Even if they suddenly have to adjust to a lifetime in a wheelchair, they can still do the things they used to do, maybe just a little bit differently. I’m able to get people to start thinking, If this girl can do it, and she was born this way, then what’s stopping me?
I always say that I was born with extra determination. If someone asks me, “Rachael, don’t you thinks this is a little dangerous?” I look at them and say, “Danger is my middle name!”
It makes people laugh as they reply, “Well then, go for it!”
That’s how I strive to live my life, and I try to communicate that to the people in my community. If you really want to accomplish something, nothing is impossible! Go for it!