My 87 year-old father was forced to spend two days at the new hospital in Oakville recently. The results of this stay were less than encouraging after enduring a biopsy and multiple tests to determine his current state of health. He did reasonably with some of these tests except for the spelling test, where he added an extra “m” to chrysanthemum.

There were many coffee shops on the main floor, so as a real treat for my bed ridden father, one morning I bought a couple of muffins to improve the entree feature of his limited hospital breakfast menu. When I arrived to his room, the nurse explained to me that dad was on a strict liquid diet. This was fantastic news as I got to eat two muffins that morning, and I was a tad hungry.

One of the things I could not help but notice, ( I could have said “I noticed” here, but by saying “I could not help but notice” adds to my word count as I try to get to 1000 words with every blog) was the vast numbers of volunteers available to help with any question a visitor might have as they wandered lost in this vast institution. I also noticed a very large grand piano in the main lobby of the hospital. In a moment of weakness I thought about volunteering.  I did also briefly think about my poor father and all the tubes stuck in his body, but as always most of my thoughts tend to go back to the much more important things in life… me.

One of the volunteers directed me to the volunteer office, where volunteers managed the volunteering process, on a volunteer basis. I asked the head volunteer if there was any chance I could play their piano? The lady handed me a special two page form to fill out, that was specifically designed for volunteer musicians.

I did my best to answer the rather invasive questions and handed the form back and she placed it in a large pile of forms from other people looking to help.  I was informed I would be contacted by another important volunteer lead, to assess in detail, my alleged qualifications.  I was then given a three page form for my doctor to fill out to ensure all my vaccinations were up to date.  There was also a checklist to ensure I did not have any type of diseases that I couldn’t even pronounce, to pretty well guarantee that I would not collapse on the piano bench while playing the chorus of American Pie. Days later I received an email to explain the three stage process in the volunteering requests at the hospital. We set up a phone interview to address stage one.

I was not sure how to prepare for this phone interview. I was comforted in knowing that because it was just a phone interview, I could wear a tee shirt and my track pants, but did choose to  wear a tie to feel a little more professional.  The questions were asked and the questions were answered. I got no indication of how well or how badly I was doing, but half way through the questioning, I loosened my tie to release the tension in my voice. The interview ended like most interviews end, “We’ll let you know.”

Days later I received another email indicating I had passed the first stage, and was now asked to arrive on Saturday morning, to audition for the second phase of this firm vetting process.

As I waited anxiously for this live performance, I thought long and hard about being a volunteer. I got a little excited thinking that the section of my resume that suggests I volunteer, would no longer be a lie, if I passed this next tests.  I reflected on so many conversations I heard from my older friends, who proudly declared that when they retire, they would start to volunteer. I sure hope their vaccinations records are all up to date.  Since vaccinations sound so much like long vacations I predicted in the end, many of  my colleagues would not volunteer at all, and more logically plan long vacations in Florida for the winter.  The allure of senior discounts, and early bird specials at American restaurants can often be just too hard to resist.

On the morning of this audition, I went to a coffee shop to focus and sat beside a group of four older men who were talking endlessly about the state of our world. Each one of these seniors volunteered their opinions on every topic, and I thought this was a much easier, attractive form of volunteering. I immediately regretted my decision to volunteer.

Saturday arrived and I met the judges who asked me to sit at the piano and play. I complied and began to play some Christmas songs, hoping one of the chairs would turn and I would get to the finals of The Voice.

Something very unexpected began to happen. People in the lobby started to surround the piano and sing along to the songs. A lady in a wheel chair introduced herself, explained she had only one lung, and sang harmony to every song I performed. She sang so beautifully one would swear she had three lungs.  The volunteer who was responsible for directing traffic in the lobby abandoned her post and sang along to all the songs she knew and even the ones she didn’t know. Visitors with patients in those unattractive hospital gowns also stopped and listened, almost forgetting they were in a hospital with a very sick relative at Christmas time.

The audition was to last thirty minutes, but the people asked to play a little longer. The judges did not seem too annoyed by this violation of stage two of their intense interview process.  In the end, I thanked the people as my Saturday morning audition ended.  As I gently closed the piano cover, the head judge asked me if I could play this Monday at noon?  I got a very good sense there would not be a phase three in this strenuous interview process.

I was wrong and my volunteer orientation program was set up for the following week.

During the follow up appointment with my father at the Cancer center in Hamilton it was confirmed that my dad has liver cancer. The oncologist volunteered a few options, including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation to treat his very large tumor. Sometimes volunteering is not as wonderful as it sounds.


This attachment transforms the preceding story from fiction to nonfiction as a volunteer insisted on recording my first Monday performance.  This evidence is only for my sceptical friends who rightfully believe everything I say is mostly made up to get their attention.  Their is no vaccination for that disease.

15 thoughts on “Volunteer

  1. Lovely piece Dennis. Yet again you’ve made us laugh AND cry while reading your blog. Sending positive vibes to your Pa.

  2. Congratulations on passing your audition Dennis! What days do you volunteer as I want to plan my next illness around your schedule. Best wishes for your father.

  3. Thanks for a wonderful, poignant piece. Wish I could hear you play again but come on Thursdays to the hospital with my therapy dogs Zoë and Billy.

  4. As always, a beautifully rendered version of one of my favourite songs. Great post as well, very funny and eye-opening; it is nice to see that so many people are willing to volunteer. I’m glad you passed the audition! Wishing you and yours a happy Christmas, Dennis, and I hope things turn out well for your dad.

  5. How wonderful for the Oakville hospital to have you playing as you did for us! Now I have another reason to choose that hospital if I get sick. Wishing you and your father well for the new year!

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