Last week, I grabbed my overstuffed carry-on and hopped a flight to Chicago, where I spent the next three-and-a-half days at a conference for people who do what I do for a living. When I try to explain to someone what I do for a living, the conversation usually goes something like this:
“So, what do you do?”
“I’m a volunteer manager.”
“Oh, how nice. But what do you do for a living?”
“I manage a large group of hospital volunteers.”
“Oh…You mean like candy stripers?”
At this point, I usually just cede defeat and mumble “Something like that”, even though candy stripers have been regulated out of the industry for at least twenty years and the term is laughably quaint. My profession tends to be shrouded in mystery and poorly understood, and it is sometimes debated as to whether it is even a profession. As with many hospitals, I’m the sole person at my campus who does my job, I work entirely alone, and every time I’m assigned a new manager, I have to begin anew the long process of educating them about my work. So it was heavenly to be in the presence of thousands of other volunteer program managers from hospitals all over the country, who shared the same language and knew intimately the frustrations, challenges and great joys that being in this field brings. Those three-and-a-half days were filled with impassioned, often tear-jerking speeches, professional and personal bonding, the open, generous sharing of knowledge and resources, and some truly unforgettable stories. These are passionate people who believe deeply in what they are doing and the impact that their work has on their greater communities. Healthcare is one of the most challenged industries in the U.S. right now, and yet there is this silent army of warriors working behind the scenes with no recognition and often little support, doing all they can to ensure the best experience possible for patients through volunteerism.
The conference did exactly what a conference should do—it knocked the cobwebs of day-to-day minutia from my eyes and reconnected me to the “why” of what I do. But, almost as importantly, I got to go on an Architectural Boat Tour on the Chicago River! It was touch and go—tickets had sold out months before the conference and competition for any tickets that were up for grabs from attendees was fierce. I really wanted to go on that tour but hadn’t bought my ticket soon enough, so I was popping in at the conference command station every hour on the hour like a junkie looking for a hit: “Do you have a ticket for me? How about now? Do you have a ticket now? I’ll pay twice the going rate!” It was a bit of kismet how I happen to obtain my cherished ticket, but blessings were on my side during this conference, and I got one! And the tour was more amazing than I imagined. I wish I had a recording of the tour guide’s 90-minute spiel because all I can remember is “Bauhaus School” and “Bessie’s cow caused a massive fire” and “Art Deco” and “I squandered college on a performing arts degree”. But our ride down the Chicago River was stunning, and hearing the vibrant history of the city was a real treat. Here are some pics from my cell phone camera:
And, finally—I think I have almost cured myself of the “range shakes”! Just before I left for the conference, I did one more stint at the range with Mr. Typist providing steady and patient tutelage, in which I nonetheless left literally in tears of frustration. I had frozen up again, gotten the shakes, started sweating like mad, and got all scrambled up trying to follow the sequence of inserting the mag, racking the slide, and clicking off the safety. I was buffeted by the noise and extremely upset with my inability to calm myself down. This is where I want to give a shout out to the very kind gentleman in our area who noticed my distress and took time out of his shooting to assure and encourage me. He was really nice to me about it, and told me he had a very hard time adjusting at first too, and that it just took persistence, and said to be patient with myself. I know to him that felt like a small kindness, but to me, it meant an awful lot. So thank you, Kind Range Stranger. I really appreciate it.
Mr. Typist then suggested I try shooting with a .22, otherwise known as a “plinker”, and, I had been wanting to try a revolver. I spent a lot of time at home meditating and visualizing being in a relaxed state (see, my New Age massage therapist days have come in handy) while practicing my handgun grip and shooting stance. I told myself this would be a happy experience and that it was perfectly safe and that I was in control. Yesterday, we ventured out again, and that seemed to be the magic formula. I rented a humble little double-action/single action revolver that, while it had a heavy trigger pull, did not explode in my hands like a cannon but rather expelled an almost dainty little “ping-choo!” with very little kickback. I relaxed almost immediately. This I could handle. It only took a few repetitions to get comfortable with loading and emptying the cylinder, and I was finally able to shoot and feel like it was a fun experience instead of an exercise in wrestling down primal panic. It actually did become meditative after a while: Count out nine rounds, load and lock the cylinder, set the gun down, pick it up, get the grip, bring it to the ready, and fire. Empty the cylinder, brush off the brass, and repeat. It felt comfortable, and I like the elegance and beauty of revolvers. They are more aesthetically pleasing than semi-automatics, and very simple to use. The noise ceased to become front and center, and I just carried on, eventually getting a respectably tight grouping on my target.
I’m not cured yet: I still had a few bad moments with the sound and I’m still got mild shakes and brain freeze while shooting the semi-automatics, but I think this was the re-set I needed to gain confidence and feel like there is a starting point for me now. So, overall, knock wood and not to jinx anything, but October, my favorite month, is starting off pretty well. Here’s a little musical tribute to the start of Fall from the adorable Noelle Johnson:
And here is a video from the American Hospital Association and the Association of Hospital Volunteer Resource Professionals that recaps the importance and impact of hospital volunteers: