Rayvon Mitchell’s work life has been, to put it mildly, interesting.

A certified nursing assistant, he’s been at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center for more than five years in his latest job. The ones that came before are so varied — and so many — it’s best just to let him rattle them off.

Heavy equipment operator. Teacher. Search and rescue with the Salisbury Fire Department. Twenty-seven years with CenterPoint Behavioral Health. Oh, and Lankford store detective; he nabbed shoplifters.

“I’d never say I loved a job,” he said the other day. “A lot of things thrilled me. Football. I was (involved) with Arena Football when I was 58 years old.

“But this,” he said of his work at the Forsyth Cancer Center helping patients, “is the best job I ever had.”

Especially now.

A natural affinity

Mitchell’s is the first face cancer patients see when they come for treatment. He’s technically a “curbside assistant,” the guy who makes sure people get settled and are headed in the right direction.

“Guiding them, basically,” he said. “Some are in wheelchairs or they can’t stand. I assist them out of their car and sometimes take them back to the car in the parking lot.”

It takes patience, understanding and an ability to listen. Hearing is one thing; listening is another.

Some cancer patients are new, an oncologist’s words still ringing in their ears. They might be scared, anxious or ready to get on with it.

Others have been at it a while; they know exactly how long their treatments will last and when they’ll be free to get the heck out of there.

And these days, with coronavirus and restrictions on visitors — support networks, family and friends — having a friendly face (and willing listener) nearby is important.

Being able to read people helps, too. Depending on the day, and the individual, a person might be angry, sad, frightened, withdrawn, upbeat or defiant. Sometimes, it can change, too, as an appointment proceeds.

All those years, in all those different jobs dealing with a wide range of personalities, comes in handy.

“The way relationships go, I allow them to let me know how far to go,” Mitchell said. “To protect their privacy, I never ask their condition or where their cancer is. If they want to volunteer that, I try and put them at ease.”

It helps that Mitchell is naturally gregarious. He’s a hugger and a toucher and unafraid to show his feelings.

“It’s one of my blessings, a natural gift from God,” Mitchell said.

For the past six weeks or so, it’s been something else, though: a hurdle in the era of physical distancing.

Hard to be a hugger

The restrictions on visitors were implemented, followed in short order by physical distancing and the widespread use of gloves, gowns and masks. That’s hard on a hugger.

“Once the virus took effect, we had to speak more love to one another rather than show it,” Mitchell said. “I know to be careful. Gloves and masks, follow the guidelines.”

He might not be able to hug or pat someone’s arm, but Mitchell found a way around it. He fashioned a simple sign at home and hung it from his station by the door.

“Corona made me stop hugging you, but God knows I still love you.”

It quickly became a conversation piece, a novel way to connect and to continue to honor those in his own family whose lives were interrupted (or ended) by cancer.

Making patients feel at ease by listening or by the simple act of opening a car door has become a calling for Mitchell. The cookies, cakes and baked goods people bring for him is a nice perk, too.

“It’s the best job I ever had,” he said.

ssexton@wsjournal.com

336-727-7481

@scottsextonwsj

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