Reflection is an integral part of all good service-learning programs and it plays a vital role in the Raggedy Ann & Andy patient care program. This recollection and articulation of experiences is a key to developing emotional maturity and gaining insight into life. These reports by pre-health professions student volunteers are indicative of the changes the program is producing.
- "After being away from the program for a few
weeks due to school I was really looking forward to visiting. One of the
patients had a neck injury but no one from her family had come to see her.
I could tell she was disappointed, but my visit seemed to compensate. She
told me that I made her day, in fact, her entire week. She whispered, “…anyway,
you being here is far better than my family because you actually LISTEN!”
Jennifer Vinson, UCSB Bio major volunteering at SB Cottage HospitalI came across one woman in the hallway, all by herself. After saying hello, she asked me if I could help her to write a letter to her children. She had a pen and paper in her hands but because of arthritis, she couldn’t write very well. The paper was all scribbled on and scratched out.
I agreed to help, and asked how I should address the letter. Then she told me what to write. I wasn’t sure if she was going to actually mail the letter, but I went along with it. At the end I helped her sign her name and told her what a beautiful letter it was. A sense of relief came over her. She thanked me and went to bed. I was glad to be able to help her and look forward to volunteering next week.
Sonia Tabatabaie, UCSB Bio Major volunteering at Valle Verde
It's amazing that I have known these people only for a few months, but know so much about them. Not only do I know a lot about them, but they know a lot about me. I have opened myself up, just as they have. Every conversation is mutual. Through truth and honesty, we both benefit, learn, and grow.
Mahdi Diab, UCSB Bio Major volunteering at Valle Verde
Abby and I met a mother who’s 8-month old son has leukemia. We could tell that she was very anxious about son’s situation, but also showed interest in talking to us. Within minutes she opened up and told us that her baby was the youngest of her five children. She described her long, exhausting commute to the hospital, and then went deeper. “My husband is not a very open man” she told us, “I wish he would talk more.” Then she bitterly complained about the day they went to lunch with the assurance that a volunteer would stay home with her baby, only to come home and find him with a broken line and blood spurting out from his artery. I felt so bad for her.
Parents with children in the pediatric unit usually need to talk to someone, but she seemed ready to have a nervous breakdown. But we stayed and listened – for almost two hours – knowing that a listening ear and a little empathy could help this nervous mother calm down. And it worked. I really felt good about volunteering that day. Sometimes I wonder if I am having a impact in people’s lives. That day I really understood that one empathetic heart could make a huge difference in someone’s day, week, month, year, or life.
Debbie Schwartz, UCSB Pre Med Student volunteering at SB Cottage Hospital
I visited Patrick, a 50 year-old patient on the oncology floor. It’s hard to find the words to say much about him because the visit left me so emotionally “tongue tied.” I walked past his room and asked if he wanted a visit from Raggedy Ann. He said he wouldn't mind but was clearly reluctant. I guess it was because of his not knowing what the heck I was there for. I pulled up a chair and we ended up talking for 40 minutes. We talked about me. We talked about him. We encouraged each other, and I believe, inspired each other equally. I asked if I could put my heart sticker on his wrist band so he would never forget me. He said okay and I hugged him and left higher than a kite. I would have sat there all day if I could.
For my first visit… I could not have wished for better patients. I can’t wait for my weeks to come. This giving to people is better than any high I can imagine. I am helping them, yes, but I have a feeling that they help me more. I am already becoming a better person thanks to the people I visit in my little raggedy costume.
Marissa Black, UCSB Pre Med Student volunteering at SB Cottage Hospital
- I had another great visit and met some new faces, which
is always a joy. One woman shared her childhood story about living in Chicago. “Normally
I quiz my visitors to make sure they are listening” she confided, “but
with you I can see I don’t need to do that. Your eyes tell me all
I need to know.” She told me that I had a warm smile and a soft touch,
and because of that I would make a great doctor. I’m always amazed
at how much I take away from these visits, and only hope I am giving the
patients just as much.
Cristina Oberg, UCSB Pre Med Student volunteering at Samarkand
The past four weeks have been awesome. I have had many great experiences, but there is one in particular that I want to share.
On one of my visits I went into a room with an older lady who was watching TV. She was waiting for someone to come and get her because she was due for surgery. When I knocked on the door and asked to come in she said "fine" with a look that said she didn’t really care,
She was in a very bad mood. Her answers were short. She told me how she hated life. She was also mad because she had read the clock wrong and now realized that instead of having to wait just a half-hour, she had an hour-and-a-half to wait.
Conversation was pretty difficult. Everything turned into something negative and it always reverted to how unhappy she was. She kept telling me how she hadn’t been out of bed or combed her hair in a week. Not because she couldn't, but because she no longer cared. I asked her if she wanted help. “No, I’m done with everything” she said firmly, “I really don’t care about doing anything anymore.”
I don't remember why, but at one point she mentioned her dog. “Aha!” I thought, “this might be a positive subject to talk about.” So I asked her questions, which led to other questions, which led to even more questions. Our conversation improved but she was still bitter. She was happy to be talking, but held on to her bad mood.
I began to think that I was asking too many questions and should probably leave. But when I started to end the conversation everything suddenly changed. She kept talking and bringing up more topics, such as her grandchildren. Then she became more interested in what she was talking about. She began to ask me questions about school and Raggedy Ann. Seeing this transformation was incredible, but then came another surprise.
All of a sudden, in mid-conversation, she tried to sit up. It was difficult for her so I put out my hand. She grabbed it, pulled herself up, and we continued to talk. Then she asked me to get her purse for her, so I did. Still talking, she pulled a comb out of her purse and started to comb her hair!
Then, delving into her purse some more, she found some dog treats and burst out laughing!!
I went with the flow, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t believe what was I was seeing. She was a completely different person. This grouchy old lady, who hated life and didn’t care about anything anymore, was now very sociable and good humored.
The weirdest part of all was that she never said, “Oh, let me comb my hair” or “I want to get up”, but just through us talking she did all of these things, and in the process became much happier. It was amazing to see all of this take place so unexpectedly.
Ten minutes before she was due to be picked up for her surgery, she didn’t want me to leave. Of course she didn’t say that, but she would say things like, “Oh, I guess they are coming soon”, which I thought was my cue for leaving. So I would stand up, but then she would start a new conversation. She kept telling me how boring the hospital was, how the nurses never came in. But now I could tell that she was loving having someone to talk to.
I will never forget this visit. Seeing a person’s whole character change in a matter of an hour was remarkable. Knowing that she felt more at ease before her surgery was even better.
Kiara Puccino, UCSB Pre Med Student volunteering at SB Cottage Hospital
- We continue to learn the ebb and flow of visits. Some
patients only have enough energy for two minutes. Others we could be there
the whole time. Liz says that very often she just sits quietly with a patient
and her just being there is a comfort.
We really learn a lot about life. For example, I met a lovely lady and we made the most spiritual connection. We got into a long philosophic talk about the difference between joy and happiness. I loved her so much. Her husband later told me how much my visits meant to her. We laugh a ton with many of our patients. Most of them have the most positive attitudes. The visits bring us so much joy.
Liz and Lucy Witmer, National Charities League mother and daughter teamI have met some really great staff at the nursing home. They are truly wonderful people who dedicate their lives to helping and caring for others. I can see how a nursing home, in some ways, is more difficult to operate than a hospital. At the home the patients are chronically ill. Very few leave in better health than they entered. In a hospital, with many patients leaving and going on with their lives, I can see how one could have more hope.
Volunteering at Casa Dorinda
Many of the patients are so close to me and I’m glad to be part of their lives. I’m glad I became a Raggedy, it so clearly shows me how the field of medicine and compassion go hand in hand.
I LOVE Irene! I think many people have the misconception that old people are senile and not coherent. They haven't met Irene! She's as sharp as a tack and very much in tune with the modern world. Today was her 85th birthday. She was so excited… had balloons and flowers from her daughters and was waiting to go out to dinner with them. She said she wants to take me out to lunch at Harry's sometime, with her daughter. I feel so honored. Talking to her is extremely easy… about school, religion, boys, anything… she is so wise and doesn't take crap from anyone. Again, I love her.
Erik Strong, UCSB Pre-Med Student volunteering at Santa Barbara Convalescent Hospital
Vanessa Gray, UCSB Pre Med Student volunteering at SamarkandIt has been a great year as a Raggedy. I met such extraordinary people, and it’s a shame that many people don’t get the opportunity to see just how remarkable each of everyone of them are. To walk in and see Richard and talk to him about baseball – something we both have a passion for. Listening to his memories of a great game brings the warmest smile to his face, and the warmest feeling to my heart.
Not many people in his situation have opportunities to open up and freely share their thoughts, memories and feelings like he can with me and the other Raggedys at Buena Vista.
Dana Kennedy, UCSB Pre Med Student volunteering at Buena Vista
On Tuesday I spent almost the entire two hours with a 7 year old girl. She had been there for three weeks and was hoping to get out soon. I had visited with her for a little while the week before and she was one of the sweetest little girls ever. This week both her aunt and her mom were there, and just seeing what they were going through, my heart went out to them.
The situation reminded me so much of what I had gone through with my sister, so I knew what they might be feeling and wanted to be able to help in some way. Last week the little girl was quieter and not feeling well, but seeing the change in a week was amazing. She was smiling and laughing again, and seeing that made me happy too. I found it hard to believe that I spent pretty much the entire two hours with her, but at the same time it didn't feel like two hours at all, it felt more like two minutes. Sitting there, playing with her, laughing with her, talking with her mom and aunt was just so much fun, I felt like I really did something good that day!
Jennifer Unterreiner, UCSB Pre Med Student volunteering at SB Cottage Hospital
- Today I learned the importance of touch. I visited
an elderly woman that very deeply needed to be touched and held. Walking
around through the corridor a younger woman in her 40s or 50s approached
me and asked me to visit her mother in the other room. She told me in a
small, sweet voice that her mother was currently busy with a physical therapist,
but would really appreciate a visit afterwards. I visited the other rooms
and made it back to her room before I moved into another floor.
As I walked into the room the woman seemed to be staring off into space. I knocked on the door to ask permission to enter, but didn’t get a response. No head turn, no "yes, come on in". I was a bit persistent with her simply because her daughter had asked so sincerely for me to visit. I continued to walk in slowly with a gentle voice asking if she would like a visit from Raggedy Ann, but still no response. She was sitting up in her bed making a small mouse-size coughing noise and rocking back and forth.
At first I thought something was wrong and that the nurse may need to be called. However, I hung around for a few more seconds and observed the situation to realize that this rocking action was normal for her condition. I knelt down beside her and continued to talk to her, but received no verbal response. This is when I realized that she cannot speak, but only mumble.
One simple touch on the top of her frail hand and she grasped onto me immediately. Continuing to mumble, cough and rock back and forth I knelt by her bed and held her hand. There is not much to say to someone who won't verbally respond back, so I began to tell her how I think she is a very strong, beautiful woman.
It made me a little uncomfortable that she was wheezing, so every once in a while I would tell her to concentrate on her breathing and to take deep breathes. Amazingly she began to go longer periods of time without wheezing. I saw tears in the corners of her eyes and she mumbled something to me.
I leaned into give her a hug and she collapsed as much as she could into the embrace. Her frail body seemed to yearn for my simple touch. I knelt down again and gently rubbed her hand. I asked if she wanted another hug from Raggedy Ann and she lightly pulled my hand towards her as a yes. She held me for longer. As I pulled away I felt that her tear had fallen onto my cheek.
She looked into my eyes as if she wanted to tell me her pain, but could not verbalize it. I rubbed her shoulders and her arms and it felt as though she melted to my touch. It was amazing to be apart of it.
Touch is so important and people without it get lost. This one visit was not full of fun or sad stories about Raggedy Ann or this woman's history, but rather a very important need was met. And that need was touch, love, care and sincerity. Yet another amazing day as Raggedy Katie.
As I left the room I was able to understand her thank you and goodbye with a tear in her eye. I left the room and saying, “Raggedy Ann loves you, Raggedy Ann loves you” remembering Karen in her demonstration video during training. A big smile came across her face – and mine, too.
Katie McLaughlin, UCSB pre-med studentToday we were helping two four-year-old twins act out a scene from one of their favorite movies about a circus bear, while their mom went to get some coffee. When we started out, the little boy seemed very tired, he wasn't that engaged. But after a few minutes he was hooting and hollering and rolling around. When his mother came back and saw this she looked so happy I thought she might cry. She kept saying to him, "Look at you! You perked right up! Now THIS is my little boy!" All he needed to bring him around was a double dose of Raggedy Ann. :)
Abby Kopecky, UCSB Pre Med Student volunteering at SB Cottage Hospital
- Everything is going wonderful. Working two jobs and
going to school full time has made life stressful lately. It has even made
it hard to make it out to Valle Verde at times. I try to go out every Saturday
because these visits mean a lot to me. While they also relieve the stress
and take my mind off of the school and work load. The close relationships
I've built with people at Valle Verde makes it possible for not only others
to open up and share their joys and burdens with me, but for me to also
open up myself. Such mutuality, such trust and sharing makes volunteering
with this organization an amazing and enlightening experience. It is true
that volunteering with this program is about listening to those who wish
to be heard. But I have learned that opening up yourself completely and
genuinely is just as important.
If everyone had the ability to open themselves up, to love, and to be compassionate towards a person they have meet for the first time this world wouldn't be such cynical and hostile place. I think that every person should seize the opportunity to partake in this program. As a matter of fact, I believe that every person who passes through the educational system should encouraged to not only learn the practices' of mathematics or English, but the practice of compassion, for the practice of compassion in my opinion is backbone of humanity and ultimately life.
Mahdi Diab, UCSB pre-med studentAs I walked in to Raggedy, the rain was drizzling down, but the ground was already saturated. Rain had been coming down for several days and puddles had formed everywhere. The leaves and flowers of all the plants glistened with water on the pathway into Vista Del Monte. I walked down the hall with the intent to visit a friend named Dorothy Dubbles. She is so special to me.
I gently knocked on her door and her face lit up. She smiled and said “Come over here and give me some smooches!” I reached around her 83 year old body and hugged her. She loves to talk and told me everything going on in her life. As I listened, I couldn’t help but wonder, why is she doing so well in comparison to most other residents here in their 80’s? Why do I love to listen to Dorothy and be with her so much?
I believe that Dorothy has something that most people loose somewhere along the line: passion for life. She is in an awful state. Her left leg was amputated, her knee replacement is crooked, and yet, she still remains happy. She is also a good listener that is actively interested in what the person is saying. In other words, she is a very good friend.
Her husband is the same way. I believe that by him being a good listener, he enables her to be a happier person. She spoke to me about how important it is to talk about problems so that they don’t weigh you down.
I came in to Raggedy with the intent to learn how to make friendships and relationships grow. I had struggled with this for a long time. I was sometimes called bossy and sometimes called quiet when I was little, which I remember very clearly. Through being a Raggedy I have learned what it takes to make and maintain a friendship, through people like Dorothy. So, just like the plants being weighed down in water and the ugly clouds in the sky, which are not very glamorous, sometimes friendship isn’t glamorous either. It’s hard to listen to sad stories. It’s not the just a smile or the red and white striped sox that make the sun come out and the flowers bloom, it’s listening, caring, and being beside them in their moment to share and acknowledge that burden. I think that is the foundation of friendship.
I am so thankful for people like Dorothy in my life and all that she has done for me. I’m sure that she doesn’t even know it. She motivates me and gives me passion for life. I love the person that she is and I hope that I can be that person to other friends that I visit.
Brittany Dixon, UCSB pre-med student
- I have been having a great time volunteering. Ironically,
as I might have guessed, this program is not at all what I expected.
I don’t feel nervous walking into the nursing home, and it is so fulfilling when my regulars see me and they get so excited. What makes it great isn't so much the feeling that there are people there who like me, but that because they like me they are happy when I come – and through that I am able to bring them that happiness.
I didn't expect Adventures in Caring to be so much about building friendships. I thought it would be more of an opportunity for others to voice their sadness and gain some kind of relief from that, which does happen on occasion. But more so I am a friend who comes to visit and what I bring isn't so much relief but excitement and happiness. This was unexpected. I am happy to have made the discovery.
John Hann, UCSB student volunteering at SB Convalescent HospitalMany of my friends have asked why I choose to become a Raggedy Ann volunteer. I never felt like anyone would really understand so I gave them the typical superficial answer, “To try to cheer people up.” For me though, being a part of Adventures in Caring means much more than that; and I was SO relieved to hear Karen report this morning that “cheering people up” was not Raggedy Ann’s job. My reason to join was to give a part of myself to those who desired it, and whether it be an ear or a hand to hold, to give it readily and openly.
So, today was my first day volunteering as Raggedy Ann, or better yet, as “Raggedy Monica.” The morning of training held by Simon, Karen, and Shelly was followed by making a visit to a nursing home in Montecito with an experienced Raggedy Ann, as well as another “volunteer-to-be.”
First, I’d like to make clear the complete lack of first-hand experience I have had in this type of environment. My extended family lives in Japan, and I have never been to a nursing home before, nor have I spent much time with the elderly. Consequently, I really had no idea what to expect or how to act. However, after several hours of detailed, intense, and emotionally inspiring training, I felt I was prepared to take my first step into the role of Raggedy Ann. Admittedly, no matter how deep Simon and Karen’s four basic principles were drilled into my head, along with the examples to lead me, and the ethics of bedside manner, it was not as basic as it all sounded.
Meanwhile, the single and most prevalent concept that humanity seems to question everyday suddenly became “basic” to me. When I stepped into the front door of the nursing facility, it suddenly wasn’t the goofy red wig or the bright colored socks that felt out of place, but rather, it was the lightness of my heart. For the first time in my grateful and well-lived 20 years of life, I felt the true depth of LOVE. I felt like I had understood it; and more significantly, I CHOOSE to follow it.
After meeting with several residents, I realized something that I was hardly prepared for. I sought being Raggedy Ann to give – not to receive. When I met with one lady in particular, located at the very end of the 2nd floor hall way, it hit me. On the broad spectrum of things, I would be on the receiving end as well, equal to the patients and residents that I would be visiting, if not more so. In a mere hour, my self-esteem, identity, and concept increased tenfold. Aside from being called wonderful, beautiful and precious, more smiles were reciprocated than I can count. I truly feel blessed to have this opportunity, and I cannot express how grateful and proud I am to be able to represent Raggedy Ann.
Monica Garty, psychology major, UCSB
"Learning the almost invisible language of many patients has been key
UCSB Graduate - Biology Major
"People respond to me in a way I never thought possible - it's really
Communications and Biology Major