Boxing Day is an off-day for most, but if Sy Elsayed’s schedule says he works – he helps – even if he doesn’t make a cent.
And the same goes for Victoria Day, Canada Day and Thanksgiving.
Actually, there’s only one day of the year that Elsayed won’t volunteer at Ridge Meadows Hospital, that being the big day on Dec. 25.
After retiring from the transportation industry, Elsayed has spent the last three years doing two half-day shifts a week at the emergency ward at Ridge Meadows, followed by another half day at Eagle Ridge Hospital and another half day at Coquitlam RCMP.
From his post at the emergency entrance, Elsayed greets patients who are sick, bleeding, overdosing or dying.
He’ll help them get their bearings while they’re there, keeping an eye on possibly serious cases so he can alert nurses, hand out the odd stuffed toy to the younger set, and do minor errands.
“Just, basically, smoothing things up for the patients.”
Many things can happen in the emergency waiting room, so you have to stay on the ball, he adds.
There are no easy days.
Elsayed’s role as a volunteer is limited, but he sees the trauma and drama that take place daily.
In the space of a half-hour recently, a man caused a disturbance at the entrance, which was handled by security. Minutes later, an infant was rushed in suffering from a dog-bite to the face.
Responding to overdoses and those in mental-health crises are common, as evidenced by the stretcher equipped with restraints, ready for use in the ambulance bay.
There’s also a secure room, ressembling a cell for possibly risky admittants.
Elsayed does whatever he can, either by cracking jokes or running errands to help those on the front lines, in particular, trying to ensure the nurses, who are always stretched for time, are doing OK.
“Because this is a very stressful job,” he said.
“It’s an important part of the hospital … because nurses only have so much time … ”
During his shift, Elsayed also makes frequent tours around the emerency ward, chit-chatting with patients, trying to make their stay a bit easier.
“I like to say hi to everybody,” Elsayed said.
“How’s the sandwhich?” he asks an elderly woman in emergency.
The response isn’t exactly enthusiastic.
“It’ll get better for dinner,” he replies.
Elsayed’s wife is a retired nurse, so she knows what her husband faces daily without bringing a cent home in return.
“Sy’s done over 350 hours this year in this hospital. That’s a lot of hours,” adds Nancy Young, manager of volunteers.
Often, Elsayed is called into the family room, near the emergency beds, where relatives are awaiting the fate of a loved one whose life hangs in the balance.
Many times, that loved one doesn’t make it.
Elsayed just tries to ensure no one is in that room alone, unless they want to be.
“It’s a great job.” he said.
“You feel good. Sometimes you go home sad. Sometimes you go home very happy – but that’s the way life is.”