world’s worst candy striper.

I just wanted volunteer hours.

Volunteering was my drug of choice in middle school, which I suppose, but for the hours spent chauffeuring me all over town, was fairly positive choice a 13-year-old could make with her life.  Ever the oldest child, I filled my calendar with do-good activities, spending time with homeless families at the local shelter and helping real little kids cross the street on Halloween night.  And then I learned I could become a bonafide candy striper when I turned 14.

It was all downhill from there.

I waited with baited breath until the big day finally arrived.  Since e-mail didn’t exactly, uh, exist in those days, I put on my Big Girl Panties and called the volunteer office at the hospital.  They mailed me an application.  I filled out said application …and passed, glory of glories to my “more! more! more!” volunteer-seeking mind.  A couple of my friends passed too, and before we knew it we found ourselves at the Salem Hospital for an all-day volunteer orientation.

Never mind that I had already developed a gag reflex to all things reeking of vomit.  

I ignored the fact that the sight of blood made me wheezy, and set aside that every other person in the room wanted to be in medicine when they “grew up.”  No way, man.  I was there to give back to society, and that was good enough for me (and apparently, good enough for the hospital, as well).

Then they handed us our uniforms.  Now, I’ve never said I’m the most fashion-savvy kid on the block, but at that point in my life, I did have a slight clue that a paper-thin red and white striped pinafore, worn with white blouse, white socks and  – of course – white Keds, wasn’t exactly an outfit my television idol, DJ Tanner, would have rocked.

So in case you’re wondering if I looked something like this…


I didn’t.  In all my awkward middle school glory, I probably looked something more like this…


Hi!  Hi!  Hi!  Welcome to being a patient in the hospital – I’m glad you’re here!  

Soon the time for us to take over the hospital, in all our candy striper glory.  I began volunteering with a vengeance, showing up every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.  But I soon realized that even though we donned a real, live hospital uniform, there wasn’t a whole lot for us to do.  Because we were 14 years old.  And most people who work in hospitals have a bit more education than one allotted training session of an afternoon.

So we figured out what we could do with our two hours of volunteer time.

We could race for the lobby to see if any new cards or flowers for delivery had arrived.

We could scope out the elevators, because it was known around town that the hospital elevators were the best in town for catching air right before the metal box landed on its designated floor.

And we could head down to the cafeteria for our free Pepsi, because, I mean, free is free, and pop is pop.  For a girl whose family didn’t regularly stock soda in the fridge, we took our 15 minute – turned one hour – cafeteria breaks seriously.

But then the New Reality started to gain traction.

I remember wriggling my nose at Old People Stench for the first time.

I remember my body slammed against the wall when the doctors and nurses whisked a patient down to ICU, urgent, shouting, frantic.  We all knew this was bad.  And I knew there was nothing I could really do but get out of the way.

I remember listening for the all-call codes over the intercom, thinking I held the inside scoop because I knew what those secret words meant.

But for jumping in elevators and free pop, I didn’t really like the job.  

So I quit, eventually.

My knack for volunteering began to wane: twice a week turned into once a week, which turned into once a month, which turned into a dusty red and white striped pinafore collecting dust in the back of my closet.  I’m sure some vintage collector ended up finding it hidden among the racks at Goodwill, eventually selling it for the bargain price of $125, sans blouse.  

But now, twenty years later, although the recollection makes me laugh, it also begs me to wonder: was it really wasted time?

Because if our hearts really aren’t in it, do our intentions actually matter?  

Does and can and will the Great Doctor take the even the most selfish of motives and use them for good?

Maybe it’s a mix of all of the above – at least that’s what I’m going to grab hold of today.

What about you?  Are there any stories from childhood that make you look back and go, “Hmmmm?”  Do our intentions matter?  Let’s dialogue!

7 thoughts on “world’s worst candy striper.

  1. You never know how you might have blessed those people you served and worked with, Cara. I bet you weren’t the world’s worst candy striper at all, not even in the bottom ten!


    1. Oh, thanks my friend. 🙂 I know I probably wasn’t the WORST, but I did enjoy the elevators and free pop a bit more than I should have. 🙂

      Cara Meredith

      be, mama. be.

  2. This story really pulled me in. Your volunteer hours may have trickled off, but your heart has always been called to help others. And your dang good at it!

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