Hospital volunteers a special breed

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
Kathy Sumislaski has answered phones, among many other jobs, as a volunteer at Rockville General Hospital for the past 13 years. Photos by Steve Smith.
Kathy Sumislaski has answered phones, among many other jobs, as a volunteer at Rockville General Hospital for the past 13 years. Photos by Steve Smith.

Many patients at Rockville General Hospital over the past 13 years have become familiar with the face of Kathy Sumislaski, who began volunteering there in 1999, after retiring from a career at Pratt and Whitney.

The Vernon resident said she had wanted to do nothing after retiring, but after three weeks, was “going crazy and needed something to do.” She read an ad in the ReminderNews that said the hospital was looking for volunteers, and soon began as an escort/messenger volunteer. She was later asked to care for people in the one-day surgery area.

Sumislaski now volunteers there a couple of days a week – getting charts ready for the next day, answering phones, greeting patients, and tending to some of their needs. She also changes bedding and runs errands.

“I enjoy the interaction with people and that what I do is very appreciated,” Sumislaski said, adding that that particular reward was something she didn't get in the workforce. Taking pride in making people comfortable is it's own reward, she said.

“You want to make the person who is coming in to have something done feel like they are the most important person,” she said, “because I've been in that spot where you're scared and don't know what's going to happen. You want to put them at ease. They appreciate the fact that somebody is there with a smile on their face.”

Sumislaski said the tasks she performs, although they may not seem important on the surface, actually are, because they free the medical personnel up to do more-important tasks.

“It takes a special person to be a volunteer,” said Diane Morey, who runs the volunteer program at Rockville General and Manchester Memorial hospitals. “Kathy has 'volunteer' in her heart, and she wants to do for people all the time.”

Sumislaski attributes that spirit within her to having grown up in a small town where neighbors often helped each other. She added that she also volunteered with the Special Olympics for many years.

“It gives me joy in my heart to know that I've made a difference in somebody's day,” she said. “And, it's just fun – it's wicked fun. You have to give back. We've had good things happen to us – my husband and myself – if I can give something back, I'm happy to do that.”

Wesley Smith also volunteers at RGH. He said he simply needed something to do after his wife passed away about five years ago. “I like doing it,” he said. “There are certain things I can't do, like I can't push beds around, but I can do everything else. The atmosphere is great, and it keeps me occupied. I feel like I'm helpful, and most of them appreciate it.”

Understandably, when people are not feeling well, they sometimes become gruff. Smith said he was once escorting a woman on her way out of the hospital and he noticed she was close to vomiting. He asked her if she wanted to go back into the hospital. Her response: “Mind your own [expletive] business.”

“There are things that you run into. Sometimes you have little problems, but most of the time, it's enjoyable,” Smith said.

Sumislaski said volunteering at the hospital is not for a person with a “shrinking violet” personality. “You've got to be able to deal with people on their level, and when they are not at their best,” she said. “You joke with them, but you have to deal with people as they are, deal with them accordingly.”

Sumislaski said a few years ago, there was a frequent patient who didn't have family or any other visitors, who spoke with her at length, a few weeks before he passed away. “He held my hand, and I listened to him,” she said. “I felt better that I made him feel better for that day. I was devastated in once sense, that he was gone, but I felt good that I gave him a little comfort before his life was over.”

“A good volunteer has to have a lot of empathy and be a good listener,” Morey said. “You have to be able to sit back and listen, no matter what they're saying.”

Morey added that many younger people are volunteering, largely because of the job market, and that it is a good way to branch out and meet people, as well as to add to one's résumé. “You never have enough volunteers,” she said.

For more information about volunteering at Rockville General Hospital, call Diane Morey at 860-647-6841.

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