Kay Pierce logs about 7 miles a night walking around the Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital emergency room, but her focus is more about the footprints she leaves behind than the distance she travels.
Pierce, an emergency room volunteer for almost 10 years, appears to leave a lasting impression on many folks she meets.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee or a glass of water?” Pierce asks as she presses her hand against the wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser and pokes her head into a patient’s room. “I’m going to be here for the next four hours if you need anything.”
It’s like this every Tuesday from 4-8 p.m. for Pierce. The faces in the rooms may change, but Pierce’s mission is always the same—making a difference in someone’s life, providing a calming presence and comfort in the midst of fear, chaos and confusion.
“Maybe it’s something as simple as providing a warm blanket,” the Ada Township, Michigan, woman said. “Sometimes families just don’t know how to cope with what’s going on. I sit down with the family and serve them a cup of coffee or tea so they don’t have to react alone to all this stuff that’s happening.”
On this Tuesday, her pace is brisk as she bounds from room to room. In between delivering warm blankets and cups of coffee, she stops to chat with patients and guests. It’s the little things, she says, that make a difference.
“There’s a tremendous amount that can be done with the gift of a heart,” said Pierce, a retired RN who graduated from Mercy School of Nursing in 1970.
She worked at a trauma unit in Baltimore for a decade, then eventually moved back to Michigan and married emergency room doctor Bryant Pierce, MD, in 1995.
Dr. Pierce works at Blodgett, Greenville and Kelsey emergency departments. Both their jobs are important.
“He has the utmost respect for me,” Pierce said.
Pierce said every day is different, and nothing is too small to need doing.
“A lot of mothers come in with their toddlers,” Pierce said. “If they have to go to the ER, I will sit with the toddler, read a book, or color with the kids. There isn’t a job that isn’t important. It sounds like it’s nothing, but it really does make a difference.”
She fits beds and gurneys with sheets, and even bakes treats. Every volunteer shift she brings in a surprise treat and leaves it in the break room for ER staff—on this day, brownies with cream cheese frosting.
Alyssa Miller, an RN in Blodgett Hospital’s emergency room, said Pierce is a welcome help.
“We love having her,” Miller said. “She’s an extra set of hands and takes care of the things we don’t have time to do, whether it’s bringing a blanket, a cup of coffee or getting a magazine.”
Pierce is still on the run as Miller speaks. She pauses between jaunts, and pulls out small packages of Kleenex from each of her purple volunteer smock’s two pockets.
If a family needs to cry, she’s ready for that, too. And she’ll even call the minister.
“If a family comes in in crisis, I greet the family,” she said. “I’m here to help.”
This afternoon, nothing appears critical. She serves up a couple of coffees, then notices a family member in need in room 14.
“You look like you’re cold,” she observes. “I’ll bring you a warm blanket.”
The shivering woman, Jessie Burton of Grand Rapids, Michigan, concurs.
Pierce returns with a comfy blanket, then offers a cup of tea.
“She is so sweet,” Burton said, with the toasty fabric draped over her body. “Hospitals can be so stressful, but they make you feel relaxed and at home here. I’ve run into her before. She’s a really awesome lady. I’m happy she’s still working here.”
Next, Pierce serves up coffee to Ron Lamoreaux, who sits by his wife’s bed in the ER.
“She’s classic,” Lamoreaux says of Pierce, while holding a steaming cup of java. “She just kind of fills in all the cracks. This coffee hit the spot.”
Pierce proceeds to a linen closet, grabs a pillow and plops it on a gurney.
“That’s my pet peeve,” she said. “I can’t have a stretcher in the ER without a pillow. I feel every person deserves a pillow.”
Like pillows, Pierce’s other volunteer activities provide people with a soft landing spot.
Monday mornings, she volunteers at Guiding Light Mission, doing blood pressure checks and cutting toenails. Every other Wednesday, she volunteers for the American Red Cross. On the opposite Wednesday, she takes handicapped people out for lunch and activities.
“My goal is to make a difference in someone’s life every day of the week,” Pierce said.
December is her busiest month. As a tribute to her deceased mother, she visits nursing homes, veterans’ homes and assisted living and dementia centers five days a week.
“I lost my mother to dementia two years ago,” Pierce said. “I was her caregiver for 13 years. She collected music boxes.”
So, Pierce totes 30 music boxes along and gives residents a hands-on/ears-on experience, jarring sometimes what little memory is left for these patients, with music.
“For some patients with dementia, music is the very last form of communication that they have,” Pierce said. “They can be sitting there totally lifeless and you put a soft music box in their hand that’s playing a Christmas carol and you see a smile on their face. You might even get them to sing a verse.”
Pierce’s passion for music boxes and comforting people in need is perhaps genetic in a sense. It’s also part of a promise.
“I kept my promise to my father on is deathbed,” she said. “I said, ‘I will take care of Mom just like you would.’”
And she did. The legacy continues.
“To me, if I can reach people who live in isolation and music is their very last form of communication, that’s tremendous. That’s the way my mother was.”
And that’s enough for Pierce.
“I’m very happy with my life,” she said. “I don’t need or want anything. I have everything that I could possibly want.”