Saying goodbye to friends at Freeman’s ICU

One spring morning in 2012, facing another long summer with little to do, I decided I needed to find something to do.

For the past year or so, I had volunteered through the local Big Brothers and Big Sisters as a lunch buddy.  A lunch buddy is kind of like a friend or mentor to a school aged student in our community.

During the summer, there was not a lunch buddy program and I didn’t want to sit at home doing nothing for three months.

I remembered all my visits to hospital when I was a kid.  During many of those visits I had dreamed “When I grow up I want to work in morning radio, as part of my morning radio show I wanted to dress up as Santa each December and deliver presents to kids who are in the hospital at Christmas.”

I recalled how I felt waking up on a vent in an CVICU in California after my ascending to descending aortic bypass surgery, only to learn by trying to stand that I had survived an ischemic stroke to my spinal cord.

I recalled how I held my wife’s hand, while she held her mother’s hand, the moment my mother-in-law took her last breath and passed away before our eyes.

I also recalled sitting with my father-in-law every day for three weeks that led up to my mother-in-laws passing and how I was a real comfort to him.

Then it hit me.  I would be the perfect fit volunteering in a hospital – after all I knew what it felt like to be on both sides of the bedrail.

I started my volunteer work at Freeman Hospital in Joplin Missouri.

My first position was pathfinder.  A pathfinder is someone who escorts visitors around the hospital to help them get to where they want or need to be.

I worked as a pathfinder for one year and I was good at getting people from one place to another.  However, all that traveling during a four-hour shift took a tool on my scooter’s battery.  Besides, making small talk with visitors as we walked was not one of my gifts.  I stepped down from being a pathfinder and only worked in the ICU.

My work in the ICU was where I shined

Each Friday, at first for six-hour day I would answer the phones and check visitors into the unit.

The job was tough and challenging at first.  Although I love to challenge myself, the first month I thought about quitting a few times.  If it was not for the then unit logistics specialist, Kirbie, I would have quit before the end of my second month.

During the past five years I have worked in the ICU I earned two awards for my volunteer service despite my physical limitations.

In the fall of 2015 I earned the Missouri Association of Hospital Auxiliaries Volunteer of the Year award.

In the spring of 2016 I was honored by the Joplin Regional Business Journal (now defunct) in their annual Salute to health Care.

During my five years working in the ICU, the work was hard – sometimes very emotional and gut wrenching.   I have witnessed dead bodies roll by my desk, been physically close to a very aggressive patient who wanted to go AMA, been yelled at on the phone, cussed at my face by a visitor who I was unable to allow into the unit, and seen more than enough families go into the consultation room and be told that their loved one will die.

There were two moments that I will probably never forget:

First, was when a young patient (probably around 20) was told their significant other who was about the same age as the young patient, was going to die.  That was particularly hard to hear as I knew when I was college age I thought I had my whole life in front of me – the last thought I would want to entertain would have been that one I love will not be able to spend a lifetime with me.

The other incident happened during the holiday season.  A young person, again college aged, was in our unit with newly diagnosed spinal cord injury.  I wanted to badly to go back to the patient’s room, talk to the patient and their family and share my story and tell them it is not the end, it is just the beginning.  I also wanted to tell them that do not let anyone tell you what you cannot do.  You determine what you will achieve in life.

But I didn’t.  I didn’t even ask, I assumed that I would not have been allowed to visit with the patient.

About a year ago, while my dad was in the in the hospital during his last 40 weeks of life, I began to feel called that God wanted me to do something else with my life.  It was a feeling that came from deep inside my gut and heart and one that I prayed about a lot to make sure I was hearing it right.

This past summer, I tendered my letter of resignation.  When I wrote the later I stated that I had felt I had done all that I can at Freeman.  I felt that I was searching for new ways to make an impact on others.  But I had two goals left to accomplish.  The first was that I wanted to reach 2000 volunteer hours, (I made that on the 11th of August this year) and the second was to pick a date that would be far enough out that anyone who wanted to say goodbye to me would have a chance to see me one last time.

On Friday, the fifteenth of September, the day before I would travel to Kansas City for Podcast training and the day that my father would have turned 76, I worked my last shift at freeman’s ICU.

Although I know in my heart that the decision I made was right for me, it was hard to say goodbye to friends I have made over my five years at Freeman – some who were there on my last day, while others had left Freeman during my five years working there.

Unit Logistic Specialist Kirbie (who is now living in the Branson area).  Unit Logistics Specialist Ressa (not sure where she moved onto) and unit specialist Samantha.  A dear person who was there for me when times were tough at work while my dad was dying in other parts of the hospital.

My first Unit director Allen (who moved on several years ago).  My second unit director Jeremy.

My first assistant unit director Shellie, my second unit director Sherry (both have moved on) and our current assistant unit director (she was a charge nurse when I stared at freeman) Erin.

Pastoral care Todd (who left to pastor his own church).  He gave me some great advice about dealing with all that I have seen during a workday when I returned home each week.  Pastoral Care Doug (retired) and Pastoral Care Christine.

Admit clerk Ronda, Porter Iris and Connie (Connie, thank you for always giving me juice and crackers) the countless number of great volunteers at Freeman including Earline who trained me to work in the ICU.

The security guard who drives the visitor shuttle cart in the parking lot.

Everyone who every worked in telementry.  You were great support and an awesome backup team for me.

Pharmacist Scott, Social Worker (Social and worker) Judy and an army of great nurses including Jessie (whom worked in the ICU when I started and now works in the Cath lab) and Micah – just to name a few.

A special thank you to the director of volunteer services, Linda McIntosh.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to volunteer at Freeman.  To touch the lives of so many.  Thank you for believing in me.  Thank you for being my champion and nominating me for the two awards I have earned.

To all of you, you made Freeman a great place to volunteer.  Thank you for all that you did for me to make me feel welcomed and may God richly bless each and every one of you for the work you do to help and the compassion you show for others.

Let’s stay in touch!