Hospital volunteers lend an ‘eager ear’

Adirondack Medical Center volunteer Kathy Durkin answers phones and runs the welcome desk at the Saranac Lake hospital. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

SARANAC LAKE — In a hospital, if you break a bone, you see an orthopedist. If shrimp suddenly starts giving you hives, you see an allergist. If you suffer from a heart condition, you see a cardiologist.

There are all these special practices and professionals to help with any type of ailment. However, if you’re perfectly fine but have a sick loved one, it can sometimes be difficult to find comfort, compassion and just someone to talk to.

That’s where the Adirondack Medical Center volunteers help out. On the surface, Kathy Durkin might direct people to where they need to go, and Karen Potts and Marcia Doty in the gift shop will help people pick out the right flowers for a sick friend, but their relationships with patients and hospital guests go deeper than that.

“I like to try and be a good listener,” Potts said. “Sometimes patients or families come in and they’re not happy, and I just listen. I think they appreciate that and feel better. I really do. It’s usually families of patients and somebody might be in the (intensive care unit) or the ER. You can tell.”

Potts has volunteered in the hospital gift shop on and off for 10 years.

“I don’t log my hours,” she said. “That’s not why I’m here.”

Doty said people appreciate an eager ear willing to listen to problems.

“It makes them feel comfortable that somebody else is sympathetic,” she said.

Recently, Durkin helped a woman find her way to her doctor’s office.

“She turned and said, ‘I really appreciate that smile when I came in that door,'” Durkin said. “I thought that was sweet.”

As a joke, a former volunteer bought a Peanuts-style sign that says, “Psychiatric Help, 5 cents,” to hang over Adirondack Health Volunteer Coordinator Kelly Rutledge’s office door.

“That’s really what goes on all day long, particularly with the volunteers,” she said.

Doty used to work full-time at AMC as a secretary in the surgical unit. She had to retire because her husband got sick, but she couldn’t just leave everything behind.

“I worked here for so many years, so volunteering is kind of like coming home,” she said. “I actually didn’t want to retire. I think I would still be up there on surgical.”

Doty said she volunteers because the work keeps her busy at the age of 82.

“It’s to keep myself from becoming senile,” she said. “I still love being with people. I’m able to do it, so hopefully, I’ll do it until I’m not able. It’s great to get out and see people and be part of something.”

Durkin moved to Malone three years ago, so once a week she drives an hour south to volunteer at the front desk.

“I like that they really appreciate their volunteers here,” she said. “I don’t think every hospital does that. I’d rather volunteer here than anywhere else. It gives you self-satisfaction.”

She started volunteering in 2013, a year after she suffered a stroke.

“I was having trouble walking and had to use a cane,” she said. “But then I noticed that down all the hallways are little railings you can grab onto. I swear that’s why I’m not using a cane anymore. I was busy, and I wanted to walk faster. I haven’t used a cane since 2014, and I don’t use the railings, either.”

Currently, Adirondack Health has 35 volunteers. Most get involved through word of mouth, Rutledge said.

“Our volunteers talk us up pretty well because they enjoy being here,” she said. “A lot of people are intimidated by coming into the hospital. Whether they’ve had a bad experience or a good experience here, I think some people shy away from it. I think it takes a special kind of person to volunteer here.”


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