Although he has only volunteered at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital since December 2014, Norman Wilkes has built many relationships with staff, patients and families in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
In the ICU many of the patients and families have a short stay; however, some reside there much longer than others. This gives Wilkes an opportunity to establish a relationship with that family and make their time at St. Jude a little more comfortable.
“With the ICU greeter position you really get to know people,” Wilkes said. “You just start building these relationships. It’s fun.”
Wilkes said he also enjoys fostering relationships with the nurses and other staff he sees in the ICU, and has grown close with many of them throughout his tenure. He said every staff member has treated him like a peer.
“You don’t even realize sometimes that you’re talking to a doctor. There’s no hierarchy thing; everybody’s just there to do their thing,” Wilkes said. “No matter the level of training or position, everyone is treated the same.”
Wilkes described several memories of patients and siblings in the ICU which have stuck with him over the years.
A sibling of a long-term patient brought his handmade artwork to sell to people in the ICU. Wilkes, who bought a piece of artwork from the boy, would often sit and play with him for the duration of their stay in the unit.
“He was just so fun to interact with,” Wilkes said.
Another patient Wilkes came to know well during a long-term stay in the ICU was able to leave St. Jude. Wilkes recalled when the former patient returned to the unit, waving and giving high-fives to everyone he knew from his time spent there.
“It’s just a great place here. It’s a grumpy world out there. You just leave St. Jude feeling elevated,” Wilkes said. “Other places there’s a heaviness in the halls. At St. Jude people just smile. Everyone is so positive, and you know what some people are going through. It is so rewarding to be a part of [St. Jude].”
Wilkes said he regularly participates in the St. Jude Marathon and Half-Marathon. He described tears prickling his eyes at the sight of patients and staff he knows lining the sidewalks in the cold to watch him run through the St. Jude campus.
He said seeing the faces of people he has developed relationships with in the ICU spurs him on to the finish line.
Wilkes said even as a child growing up in northern Mississippi he heard about the great work happening at St. Jude. Wilkes said volunteering was a part of his life long before he came to St. Jude, having volunteered with many other organizations.
“[Volunteering] will change you,” he said. “Yes, you’re giving your time, but you will receive so much of a blessing in return.”