Photo by Jay Paul
After 40 years at Nationwide Insurance, David Thomas retired and immediately began volunteering at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in the surgical waiting area. “I wanted to be able to give something back to the community, and [St. Mary’s] just seemed like a great place to be able to do that,” Thomas says. For more than two years now, Thomas, 65, has been assisting families in the waiting area four days a week from 7:30 a.m. to noon.
Dr. George Parker, director of surgery for the Bon Secours Medical Group, appreciates the extra effort Thomas makes to help put families at ease in the waiting room. They receive a beeper-type device (similar to what you’d get while waiting for a table at a restaurant), and this is their connection to the doctors, nurses or volunteers at the hospital. The surgical waiting desk then monitors requests made to speak with the patients’ families. When the beeper goes off, the family knows to return to the desk. Parker says that while this system works, it’s impersonal, and Thomas adds a more comforting touch. “Dave tries to remember everyone’s name. Instead of beeping [the family], he will take me or the other surgeons to them personally.”
Doing his best to identify families by sight, Thomas says he personally finds them when they are needed. “On occasion my recall will fail me, but for the most part I don’t use the pagers. I want folks to feel they are not just a number.”
Thomas says that his approach is based on how he feels he would want to be treated. “I try to put myself in their position.”
Every day, Thomas encounters mothers in the waiting area with children admitted for surgery. In many cases, Thomas says he can see the panic in their faces. “I tell them their child is going to be really well taken care of.” Thomas says he works closely with the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) to be sure that the mother is brought to the child as soon as possible. “My reward has been anything from a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to a bear hug,” says Thomas. “That just gives me a great feeling.”
For Thomas, volunteering was something he always wanted to do, and in retirement, he’s finally able to give back. He also puts in time at George Mason Elementary School in Church Hill, assisting first-graders with their reading skills. It’s something he got involved with through his church, Christ Church Episcopal in Glen Allen, as part of the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project (MICA Project).
The St. Mary’s Surgical Waiting Area sees both inpatient and outpatient cases, making every day a different experience for Thomas, who realizes that his time at the hospital makes an impact. “There’s never a day that I leave there that I don’t … think, ‘You know, I’m really glad that I was there today, because I did make a difference.’ ”