Making the best of it

A Sheba Medical Center volunteer learns it’s all in the attitude

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer (photo credit: Eli Libenson)
Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer
(photo credit: Eli Libenson)
I lost my job to a computer.
I’m a volunteer at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. For six years I had been bringing patients’ files from the archives to the doctors’ examining rooms. Now that all the files had been digitalized, I was no longer needed.
So I turned to Yael, the office of volunteer services.
“Can you find me a job?” I asked the director.
“What would you like to do?” “Anything,” I answered, “as long as it involves physical activity. I don’t want to sit behind a desk.”
“We do have something at the geriatric rehabilitation building. It’s a new position that has just been created. Why don’t you go and have a look?” Sheba is a sprawling complex. There is an internal transportation system in place to ferry patients back and forth from their own buildings to the central building, where most medical testing takes place.
There is a hospital rule that a patient in transit must never be left unattended. My job, as explained to me, would be to stand at the ambulance port and remain with the patient returning from a test until an orderly returns him to his room. The importance of the job, I was told, is that it would relieve the ambulance driver of the necessity of remaining with the patient, thus freeing him to continue with his ferrying work throughout the hospital grounds.
I tried it for a day. I didn’t like it at all.
In my old job, I was constantly on the move; here there were long stretches of time with nothing to do. At my old job, I knew I was performing a needed task. Here, I felt, I was just marking time.
After my four-hour trial period, I returned to the Yael office. “I don’t like my job,” I told the director.
“Do you have something else?” “I’m sorry. At the moment, all our jobs are sedentary and you wanted physical activity.”
“If something comes up, call me,” I replied.
I returned to the geriatric rehabilitation building and told myself that for the time being, I’d make the most of it.
First, I tried to redefine my work. Rather than just be a body in a blue volunteer smock, waiting with a patient for an orderly to come, I would be a presence.
I’d greet the returning patient with a smile, offer an encouraging word, and talk with him.
Second, I noticed that I could also be of help when the orderlies first brought down the patients to await their rides. I could engage them then as well. We all know that being hospitalized is a difficult and lonely time. What I discovered, fundamentally, was that there was an opportunity for the human touch in the work I do.
Today, when people ask me what I do at the hospital, I tell them that I am a “patient companion.” I explain that it is my job to make sure that a patient never feels forgotten or abandoned, that there is always someone looking out for him.
People react very positively to that job description, and often tell me that I am doing very important work.
One of the things I liked most in my prior job was getting to know the secretaries, the archive workers and the nurses. They are people I’d never have met otherwise – modest people, lovely people, who understand the importance of their work and do it well. It’s the same in my new job, only this time with orderlies, drivers and clerks.
I have been at my new job for some months now. At first, I thought I’d just make the best of it. Now, I’m discovering that making the best of it can be very good.
Eli Libenson is a graduate of Harvard College, Boston’s Hebrew College and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, and served as a Conservative rabbi at the Manetto Hill Jewish Center in Plainview, New York, for 13 years before making aliya in 1984. He taught junior high and high school English in Israel. He has been a volunteer at Sheba Medical Center for the past six years.