Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Mealtime Mates Volunteer Sheila Harrison
Aug 21, 2019 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Meet Sheila Harrison!
Sheila is a retired nursing communications assistant who volunteers with the Mealtime Mates program, a dedicated group of volunteers who spend time with patients who need extra help eating—or could use some friendly company during meals.
"It was way beyond feeding somebody breakfast. It was making a difference in someone's day and making a positive connection that went both ways."
We caught up with Sheila to learn about the program, her conversations with patients, and how she's spending her retirement.
What do you like about volunteering?
SH: I worked at Cedars-Sinai for 40 years. It's really something that keeps me connected and keeps me in the mix of where I come from.
I grew up here. Learned from the best here. I'm able to give something back and be a part of something that's way bigger than myself. It's very satisfying.
What are your interactions like?
SH: Everyone you meet is special and unique. You feel like family even though you've only known them for a few minutes!
You knock on the door, introduce yourself, and let them know you are there to help them eat.
And you bond. You call somebody by their name. And by the end of it, you've made a friend.
What's one of the most memorable experiences you've had?
SH: I had a patient whose diagnosis was "failure to thrive." She wouldn't eat. She was depressed. She did not want to continue to live.
And she said, "Sheila, I can't even lift my hand." I said, "Well, that's why I'm here to help you with your breakfast." She was on her side, and I basically spoon-fed her with small pieces.
I said, "You're eating pretty good." And she said, "Yeah, but I don't know how much longer I can do this."
I said, "Well, you are living in the moment right now. You are eating your breakfast. Thank you for letting me feed it to you."
We were nose-to-nose because I wanted to make sure we looked each other in the eyes so she could see me being connected with her. And that was the most indelible thing for me.
It was way beyond feeding somebody breakfast. It was making a difference in someone's day and making a positive connection that went both ways.
"I've listened to Mozart, I had a class about restaurant critiques, and I tried foods that I never had before."
What do you do when you're not volunteering?
SH: The beautiful thing about being retired is I have more time to do things I never got a chance to do.
I spend more time with my 3 adult children. I'm a member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. My husband and I go to jazz nights there as well.
We have tickets for the Hollywood Pantages Theatre and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Santa Monica College also has an emeritus program for seniors. I go full-time. This is my second year.
What are you studying?
SH: I've taken everything from music appreciation to current events to Shakespeare.
I can actually say I read Hamlet. I didn't know it was a tragedy. Thank you, Shakespeare!
I've listened to Mozart, I had a class about restaurant critiques, and I tried foods that I never had before. I'm going to take a class about American novels.
It's all really fun, and it gives me plenty of things to talk with patients about during meals.