By Mary Keiley
I was 23 years old and I had everything going for me. I had graduated as a nurse from St. Clare’s a little more than two years previously. Back from a post-graduate operating room course in Toronto, I had landed my dream job as head nurse at St. Clare’s Operating Room.
While scrubbing for an orthopedic case one morning, I was called back for a repeat chest X-ray. Five days later I was admitted to the sanatorium in St. John’s (known as the ‘san’) for treatment for Pulmonary Tuberculosis (TB). My charmed life and my dreams were shattered.
In 1958, TB treatment was total bed rest with bathroom privileges only. I was prescribed 24 pills per day and two injections per week – and the belief of the day was that raising your arms over your head would interfere with the treatment. I could sit up, but couldn’t go for a walk and at 23 years old - the worst of all fates: I could not wash my hair.
After being a very good patient for almost three weeks, I could not stand it anymore. One night after midnight I sneaked into the bathroom and washed my hair in the sink!
That night I vowed that if I ever made it back to my nursing life and eventually retirement - I would volunteer to do shampoos for patients who could not do their own.
40 years later, in 1999, I was retired from nursing only three months. Our five children were independent. I was still haunted by that terrible experience of being unable to shampoo my hair for days and days. I had worked at St. Clare’s for more than 30 years, so I contacted Sharon Dawe, the hospital’s director of volunteer resources, to discuss my hair washing idea. Sharon was delightfully supportive and I was thrilled.
Fulfilling a Promise
I was welcomed to 6 East on Saturdays. I wash the hair of those that cannot do their own. I have my own supplies - shampoo, conditioner and blow dryer. Shelley and her staff on 6 East made my work a joy when I was working as a nurse...and they still do!
Twelve years later, I am still enjoying very much my Saturday AMs on 6 East. The physical work is much lighter since the lovely, efficient and ever pleasant Joanne Hogan joined me about five years ago, and, more recently we have been joined by Elizabeth Dillon for whom volunteering is a life calling.
Just do it!
If you are thinking about volunteering- do it! It is life-giving and the volunteer is definitely on the receiving end! I have no doubt that I gain so much more from my volunteering than I ever hope to give.