My long-awaited volunteer orientation session at Laguna Honda was a couple of weeks ago. I’d thought it would be 500 people sitting in rows of chairs in an auditorium, but it was 18 people around a conference room table. That explains why it’s so hard to get into one of these sessions. Energetic and entertaining volunteer coordinator Jan Doyle spent two hours or so telling us about Laguna Honda and its residents and things volunteers should be aware of. He told us that women volunteers should not go into the rooms of male residents who could have the ability to overpower them physically. He said that elderly does not equal sexless, and cited the example of the 105-year-old resident whose birthday wish was for a visit from a belly dancer (which he got).
Eighty percent of Laguna Honda’s residents will live out their lives there, while the other twenty percent are getting rehab or other forms of positive care, and can expect to be released. They also provide positive care for residents with HIV, which Jan pointed out come in two distinct groups that may tend to be judgmental about each other: gay men, who got HIV via sex, and street people, who got HIV via I.V. drug use. He said the former are generally eager to go home, while the latter, once they notice they are sleeping inside and are warm, well fed, and well cared for, tend to want to settle in at the hospital permanently.
Jan said to consider what resident population our personality might be a good fit with, depending on whether we are introverts or extroverts. Some groups of residents will interact more, some less. It can take a long time to establish a relationship with a mentally ill resident, even one on medication, because he or she may have learned not to trust others.
I’d thought I might end up doing a little hospice volunteering there, but their hospice volunteers have all been through the San Francisco Zen Center’s training program, which is not as time-consuming as Sojourn’s (at San Francisco General Hospital) but is still more than I can do. They also have a group of NODA volunteers on call: No One Dies Alone, volunteers who come when death is imminent.
After the formal orientation was over, Jan took a few of us on a tour of the hospital. The room where we met is in the old building, where administration now resides, but most of this large and beautiful building is empty. Looking at it from one of the new towers, I saw blank, empty, dark windows on the upper floors. Kind of creepy.
The new building, with its two towers and pavilion, is also beautiful, very full of light and also full of really splendid artwork. Jan said it’s not OK to take photos of patients, but it’s OK to take photos of everything else, including the artwork.
They have a farm! Anyone, including volunteers, can go there and pet the animals, which are very used to human contact, with the exception of the goose, who doesn’t care for it.
Jan said it’s better for volunteers to start with a small number of hours and work up, and also that if we don’t like our area, we should tell him, because there are many different areas of the hospital. He wants us to be happy, because happy volunteers are long-term volunteers, and long-term volunteers lead to happy residents. In a survey several years ago, the residents said the nurses were their favorite thing about the hospital, and their second favorite was the volunteers. Jan said these results caused the volunteer department suddenly to be treated with more interest and respect.
When I left there, I went down into the Forest Hill Muni station—another creepy place—and took the train one stop to Castro St. station, and near there had a nice Greek omelette and green tea for lunch. Then I walked home, a short walk. I might take Muni back and forth to the hospital, or maybe a City CarShare car, partly depending on the time of day. I could even walk home if I had time. I’ll do that one of these days.
I’d wanted to get over to Open Studios, but it wasn’t going to work out, so instead I did the ironing I didn’t do Friday night and then went over to Arlequin on Hayes St. to meet my chaplaincy class small group. Many of the other patrons were quite dressed up, even in suits. Perhaps they were going to the symphony or the jazz center later. I went 25 years in the San Francisco neighborhoods I frequent without seeing a single person in a suit. It still is an odd sight.
We had a very nice visit, and then one of my classmates gave me a ride to Papalote, where I picked up a burrito for dinner.