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Laughter and tears: My experience as a volunteer

Haley Sulka
January 17, 2018
Haley Sulka child life volunteer
Haley Sulka is a planned giving officer and a volunteer at the MUSC Children’s Hospital.

 When I think about the past three years of living in Charleston, there are so many moments and experiences that stand out. A lot of those moments happened in the MUSC Children’s Hospital. When I first moved here, applying to the volunteer program was at the top of my list. I love kids and thought it would be a good way to get involved and learn more about where I work. At the time, I didn’t think about how special an opportunity it would be to serve those children for a couple of hours every week and, in turn, for them to bless me as well. When I think back on my time spent on the seventh floor, countless faces and stories run through my mind. Some are sentimental; many are funny; and a few bring tears to my eyes.

When I first began volunteering, I was in the neonatal intensive care unit and special care nurseries. While I loved rocking babies, I felt something was missing. I wanted more engagement, more connection. I requested to be moved to the Child Life Atrium, and I began working with patients that ranged in age from newborns to 18 years old. It was the best move I ever made. I get to rock a newborn here and there, but most of my time is spent with children who know exactly where they are and under what circumstances. There’s something really gratifying about helping to take their minds off both those things while I’m there. Whether that’s by getting into a head-to-head foosball match with a 7-year-old or learning the dance moves to Justin Bieber’s new music video with a 14-year-old, my job as a volunteer is to help a patient forget they are a patient -- even for just a few hours.

While I know the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital will be great for the obvious reasons -- it’s new, has more rooms, updated equipment, etc. -- volunteering has given me a whole new perspective on this project. Our pediatric patients are tough, way tougher than most adults I know, myself included. I truly believe that they deserve the best, because they’ve been dealt the worst. That’s what the new hospital will be for them. It will give them the best view of Charleston, attract top physicians and provide the most fun, magical atrium to come and hang out in with volunteers like me.

If you’ve ever thought about volunteering but are on the fence or maybe waiting for a sign to just do it, take this as your cue. It has been one of the most meaningful ventures of my time in Charleston and my entire life. I never could have imagined all that I would gain from spending a couple of hours each week in the hospital. Yes, it’s emotional to hold a crying child’s hand while a nurse puts in an IV. Yes, it’s tough to calm a screaming baby who’s going through withdrawals. And yes, it’s heartbreaking to spend time with a patient whose days might be numbered. But with those difficult moments come so many great ones, like when a kid snickers because they beat you in Mario Cart for the fifth time in a row. Or, when you’ve spent an hour with a very shy, introverted patient, and she finally cracks a smile and giggles at your silly antics. Or the heartfelt “thank you” from a parent relieved to get a breather when you walk in. It’s those moments when I know I felt called to volunteer for a greater reason. It’s truly an honor to be a light in between the medications, procedures and hard conversations. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my Wednesday nights.

About the Author

Haley Sulka