COLUMBUS, Ohio — The rules upon entering the veteran’s hospital room are simple.
Use hand-sanitizer first thing. Introduce yourself. Tell the patient that you’re there to honor his or her service. Be empathetic. Don’t impose. Try not to stay longer than 15 minutes.
“The patient is the reason for the visit, not the volunteer,” said Gerry O’Shaughnessy, Riverside Methodist Hospital’s manager of volunteer services.
To start something like the Volunteer Veterans Visitation Program, you have to have rules.
But in the best cases, the visit just turns into two people talking about their lives. As when Matthew Golis, 76, of Clintonville, stepped into James Cousar’s room on Wednesday.
Golis pumped the sanitizer dispenser. He introduced himself. And before long, he realized that Cousar, 65, of the East Side, had served in Germany during the Vietnam era. Golis had served in Germany during the Korean War.
“I loved the country,” Cousar said after the conversation got rolling. “I loved the food and the bock beer.”
Golis laughed hard at that. He laughs a lot anyway. If you were sick in the hospital, Golis would be a nice visitor to have.
“I liked the mustard,” he said, “that Dusseldorf mustard.”
They didn’t talk about what put Cousar in the hospital. That wasn’t the point. Golis showed Cousar a folder about community and federal veterans programs — Cousar already had one, or Golis would have given it to him. Golis thanked him for his service.
“It’s a good feeling,” Cousar said after the visit. “When I got out during the Vietnam War, we weren’t very valued citizens.”
O’Shaughnessy spent most of a year creating the program at Riverside, in part because she had seen a lack of appreciation for Vietnam veterans when she worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She sometimes worked special flights that took troops to California, where they waited to go to Vietnam. She also worked flights that brought home the remains of troops killed there. She didn’t feel that they received the attention they deserved.
“I would look out of the windows at the bodies being carried off,” O’Shaughnessy said. “There wasn’t any military to meet them besides the people carrying them off. There weren’t families.”
She thought of this when she heard about a program for hospice patients at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. If the patients were military veterans, the hospital would send around a volunteer who was also a veteran to visit.
She had the idea of starting a similar program at Riverside, changing it from hospice-only to any regular hospital patient. It would be a way to honor veterans who might not have been honored before.
She started on it last November. A number of Riverside volunteers were military veterans: Golis, for example, had been a volunteer piano player in the lobby. As part of the hospital check-in procedure, patients are asked whether they are veterans.
The visits have been happening for about a month. Volunteers make four or so stops per day, O’S haughnessy said. They check with the nurses first to make sure the patient is up for it, then head on in.
The patients receive pins that say “OhioHealth Honors Veterans.” Cousar was wearing his on his hospital gown on Wednesday.
Cousar looked a little down when Wednesday’s visit started, Golis noted.
When Golis left, Cousar was smiling.