Tomorrow marks the last day for our 2018-2019 Year Long Volunteers. This past year, they have dedicated their lives to serving the Christ House community. We’ve been sharing their end of year reflections every Thursday for the past few weeks as they look back on a year of learning, laughs, and challenges.
Eric is from Los Angeles, California and is currently earning a Master’s degree in Public Health from George Washington University. This year, Eric has played a significant role in coordinating logistics and advocating for patients as the Clinical Unit Assistant. Below, he reflects on the biggest challenge he faced during his service year.
Take a Breath
By Eric Carles
If you walk up to the desk at any given moment, you can see me fastidiously writing in charts while talking to someone on the phone. I’m continuously shifting mindsets, so much so that I lose track of time. There’s never a dull moment, and that’s just how I love it. I’m always thinking several steps ahead, never looking back. I sometimes focus so heavily on the future that I forget to focus on the now. This year, my biggest challenge has been trying to stay present.
As I write this, I am reminded of a patient named Mr. T. and his willingness to share his pain and my willingness to prioritize him by stopping everything.
Mr. T, if given the opportunity, could talk your ear off for hours. Usually, he would roll up to my desk and stare at me until I made eye contact. He’d then ask, “Eric, do you got time right now?”
“Sure, Mr. T! What’s up?”
Immediately, he’d respond with a smile and start blurting out stories a million words a second. After a while, something urgent would inevitably draw my attention so I’d interrupt Mr. T and ask him to come back later when there was less chaos.
One day, he rolled up to my desk and seemed a bit off. I couldn’t help but notice how Mr. T was sunken in his wheelchair, sulking. He didn’t stare at me, he just kept looking off in the distance. I had a lot on my plate, but I stopped. He wasn’t his usual jolly self; he looked distressed. I knew a conversation with him could take a while, but I also sensed that Mr. T. really needed someone to talk to that day.
I stopped everything, and took a deep breath.
“Hey Mr. T, how are you feeling?”
He looked at me, eyes beginning to sparkle from the tears forming.
“I’m not doing so well, Eric.”
I immediately moved all my charts to the side.
Mr. T’s mom had passed away and his brother was cutting Mr. T out of the whole ordeal. He was angry, sad, and confused. There were so many emotions at one single moment.
We ended up talking about his mother. She was a strong single mother who raised several kids on her own without support. She made sure they were all well-fed but had little time to be home because she was constantly working. At that moment, Mr. T reached a dark part of his story. He started to reflect about his mistakes and how things ended up with his mom, and eventually burst out in tears.
I was concerned, but all I could do was listen and take it in. It took everything in my being to keep it together while seeing a once joyful man broken down by familial discord.
After a few minutes, Mr. T composed himself.
“Thanks, Eric, for letting me talk. I know you’re busy but I appreciate you! You actually listen! You care and that means a lot! Thanks for listening!”
Though it was hard to see him in such a sunken state, I was happy he shared. I enjoyed his willingness to be human. Most of all, I enjoyed his willingness to be vulnerable. Mr. T and I had a stronger relationship from then on.
There are moments in my everyday work life that are comparable to that conversation with Mr. T. Whether it is joking around with a patient, or whether I’m helping a patient understand where he needs to go, there is always a moment where I need to remind myself to stop, take a breath, take it in, and be present in the now.