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St. James Volunteers- Filling a Need

February 05, 2010
'You can always relate to the people' By Roberta Forsell Stauffer, Opinion Page Editor - 02/01/2010 Maybe they should be called surgery weighting rooms for all the heavy feelings they hold. The future health of a loved one rests in the hands of another and there's not a darn thing you can do about it. Except wait. And hope. And pray. It's a high-anxiety setting, and I couldn't imagine anyone choosing to spend time there if they didn't have to. Until I met Doris Quinn, that is. For the past 20 years, Quinn, 79, has volunteered at the outpatient surgery desk at St. James Healthcare. Her regular shift is Tuesday mornings, but she also fills in other days when needed. Our paths crossed twice last year. I sat, waiting for my son to emerge from sinus surgery, while Quinn served, putting people at ease. The minute you sit down, there she is, explaining to patient and parent alike exactly what to expect. If the process will take a few hours and you plan to leave for a while, she wants your cell phone number, just in case. Want to hit the cafeteria? She needs to know. In situations like these that are completely beyond your control, it's so nice to have that most personal touch, especially from someone who so obviously enjoys giving it. Twenty-two volunteers staff this desk, she tells me over coffee one recent afternoon, in a blatant attempt to deflect attention away from herself. But she's the one I was lucky enough to get both times, her mere presence an added comfort. She lives that old adage, "Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet," and works her territory like a pro. Quinn said she had a few shifts early on in the gift shop and sometimes staffs the main information desk, but she mostly works the surgery/scope area. "It's my favorite because of the people," she says. "You can always relate to the people." She seems to have a sixth sense about when to leave someone alone with their thoughts and when a little small talk would be welcome. "You can always start with the weather," she says. After that, the conversation is usually off and running. Definitely, she gets more out of the volunteering than she gives, Quinn said. She's volunteered for various causes all her life, also served on the hospital's board, and her mother was a hospital auxiliary volunteer for "years and years" at St. Patrick's in Missoula. "I feel good when I leave," she tells me. "Maybe I made someone's day a little easier." Months later, she'll run into people out shopping, and they'll give her a hug of thanks for being there for them that hard day long ago. She also enjoys the camaraderie of the other volunteers. The auxiliary's volunteer crew is 70 strong, said Linda Lee Holmes, volunteer liaison for St. James. "They have a good time," she said of the volunteers, most retired yet still wanting to get out and be with people. "I don't know what we would do without them," Holmes said. "They are just wonderful. We tell them they're our voice in the community and the first face people see when they walk in the door." I'll certainly vouch for that and hold it up as yet another example of why Butte has such a longstanding reputation for being a friendly, generous community. Holmes said "more hands" are always needed and anyone interested in becoming a hospital volunteer is welcome to call her at 723-2787. Quinn made it look so rewarding that I may even add "surgery desk volunteer" to my list of possible to-do's upon retirement, too many years from now. It seems she's found a secret to staying happy and young at heart: freely help other people in their time of need. — Roberta (Bobbi) Stauffer is The Standard's opinion page editor. She may be reached at 496-5514 or by e-mail at roberta.stauffer@mtstandard.com.