While considering to apply for the Washington Ireland Program, I came across a website one day about a children’s charity that was located through various hospitals in Ireland. ‘Children in Hospitals Ireland’ provide a ‘play well ‘ and ‘just ask’ service that helps sick children in hospitals have a better experience and memory of their stay in hospital. Immediately it appealed to me, having always had a passion for working with children and a rather strange appreciation of hospitals. A few emails later I found myself at the first training session early one Saturday morning at the start of February. Apprehensive at first and not knowing what to expect, I was more than pleasantly surprised at what was to follow. Four training sessions later I started as a weekly volunteer in Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin in Dublin. I and another volunteer would manage the ‘just ask’ desk at the reception of the hospital on Wednesday mornings, providing advice and information to parents as well as arranging activities for the children in the outpatients department. At first this was a very daunting task. Endless corridors and doorways proved to be a maze, which we would quickly have to learn to navigate. Trying to find ways to remember where the X-ray department was or directing a parent to St Brigid’s ward was no easy task. Thank goodness for the rather large fish tank at the infamous ‘cross roads’ in the middle of the hospital – this would be my guiding point for most directions. It is hard to miss.
Despite these minor challenges I quickly settled into my role at the ‘just ask’ desk. Every week has had something new in store. One Wednesday, I spent time coloring in a picture with a little girl who was only 3 years old. She was fascinated by the fact that my jeans had holes in them. My attempt at explaining that this was ‘fashionable’ was lost on her (note to self, reassess wardrobe.) Last week I was told by a little 4 year old that my attempts at coloring inside the lines of the picture was just not good enough. She told me to hold her hand and proceeded in showing me how it should be done. Needless to say my coloring is now spot on. This week, I spent the good part of an hour up in the burns ward with a young boy engaged in the most serious and competitive game of Jenga I had ever experienced. No one else in the playroom was allowed to talk, never mind breathe. Aside from the very enjoyable and amusing interactions with the children, you are constantly reminded of the unfair reality of seeing so many sick children. There are the regulars you see every week. A teenage boy very evidently fighting an uphill battle with cancer came walking in one week. The next week he needed his father to push him in, in a wheel chair. I have never got the chance to know his name. A parent with child in ICU desperately tries to maintain composure outside the hospital entrance. The receptionist brings out some tissues. I remind myself every week how lucky I am. What a humbling experience this has proven to be.