"Ever walk into a big box store for the first time? Do you remember how bewildering it was to get your bearings? Add to this perplexity another uncomfortable sensation, such as bleeding, severe pain or vomiting, and then you can begin to imagine how many of our patients feel when they enter the emergency department for the first or even subsequent times," said Dr. Michael Carius, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Norwalk Hospital.

"The volunteers who staff our emergency department waiting lounge are truly navigators," he said. "They are usually the first members of our staff to greet these patients and their accompanying family members and friends as they enter the emergency department. They help them negotiate what appears to them to be a most bewildering and confusing system. All it takes is a kind face, a soft touch, and a willingness to serve, and you can be of immense benefit to these patients in distress."

And perfect examples of that are Dick Wrigley of Norwalk and Joyce Barnhart of Westport, who co-chair the EDWL volunteers, a group of individuals who help Norwalk Hospital meet its mission to provide "uniquely excellent, innovative and compassionate care with exceptional outcomes."

Wrigley has always been a strong advocate for volunteerism. Over the years, he has volunteered for Boy Scouts, Little League and as a mentor for a child. Ten years ago, he joined the Norwalk Hospital volunteers.

Since then, he has been assisting patients and staff, taking on many diverse responsibilities and making an immeasurable difference. As co-chairman of the EDWL service, he trains new volunteers and helps coordinate schedules.

Sometimes, the patients are taken directly from the triage area into the emergency department and other times, depending on the situation, they will be instructed to wait in the emergency department waiting lounge. Five minutes can feel like a long time when you are waiting in an emergency department; but the continued reassurance and interest exhibited by the volunteers is often a source of comfort to the patient and family.

Joyce Barnhart, the co-chairwoman of the EDWL volunteers, has volunteered in other areas of the hospital over the years.

"With the one-on-one interaction with patients and family members, it is truly rewarding," she said. "We are able to provide that TLC while the staff is so busy."

For this volunteer role, it is important that people are friendly and willing to help, have good common sense and a cool head in an emergency.

The EDWL volunteer also helps direct people entering the hospital to the digestive disorders center, radiology, pulmonary medicine, the business office or a multitude of other destinations.

According to Barnhart, although Mondays and Fridays tend to be the busiest times for this area, it really is unpredictable. But no matter what the day is like, "at the end of the day, when I leave here, I know that I have made a difference."

"We are here to help people in whatever way we can by providing good will and service to all," Wrigley said.

Those interested in exploring volunteer opportunities at Norwalk Hospital should call 203-852-2023.