For most people, going to a hospital emergency room is a rarity. And they're usually quite pleased that it is.

But two Westport women do it on a weekly basis, and try to make a difference each time they do as volunteers at Norwalk Hospital's Emergency Department.

The women, Martha Rosenfeld and Karen Tricarico, the co-chairmen of a volunteer team that comforts patients and visitors at the emergency center.

"People come to an Emergency Department for a variety of reasons, but none of them because they want to be there. Rather, they are sick or injured, and usually in pain or having some other discomfort," said Dr. Michael Carius, chairman of the hospital's Emergency Department.

"In a technologically driven place like the Emergency Department, the human element can be lost or displaced. This is where a motivated Emergency Department volunteer comes in -- to reassure, to communicate, to comfort, to help explain a sometimes bewildering and threatening environment and process," he said. "We consider them indispensable members of our Emergency Department team and family."

Rosenfeld has volunteered at Norwalk Hospital for 12 years. "Having been a teacher for 27 years, I wanted to use my life experiences to help people. As an Emergency Department volunteer I can be an informed friend to both the patient and the family," she said.

The role is a demanding one, she said. "A bed can never be unmade because in five minutes other patients could be admitted from an accident .... not only do we comfort patients and families by listening and providing blankets, socks or something to drink, but we also need to keep the shelves stocked, prepare the linens, make up the stretchers and assist the staff in any way we can.

"Although it is a high-pressure, high-stress environment, we have a great opportunity to make the patient feel good about their hospital experience," she added.

Rosenfeld, who recently visited a patient who was admitted to the hospital after assisting that person in the emergency room, said that there is a bond that often develops between patients and volunteers. One patient said to her, "I feel like I am related to you."

Tricarico, originally from New York, has a business background, including working in the finance department of a hospital in California. And the mother of three is also involved in many of their activities, including soccer and gymnastics.

"My evenings are full, but I had some time during the day and I wanted to volunteer to give back," she said.

For the last two years on a regular basis, she has been volunteering in the Emergency Department, helping patients and their loved ones, training new volunteers, helping staffers and other tasks. "It is so important to be flexible and discreet. We have to accept our limits as volunteers, follow directions from the staff, and know that we are there for the emotional health of the patient. The reward is the personal satisfaction derived from helping others," she said.

"Our volunteers provide an invaluable service to the patients and Emergency Department staff," said Colleen Brennan, RN, clinical coordinator for the Emergency Department. "Whether stocking shelves, transporting patients, or providing comfort to patients and their families, a day in the Emergency Department goes much smoother when we have our volunteers working with us."

"We always hear that it takes a special kind of person to work in the Emergency Department," said Lorraine Salavec, RN, director of Norwalk's Emergency Department. "And it does ... but imagine the kind of person it takes to volunteer his or her own personal time to help our staff provide emergency care to our patients. We are so fortunate at Norwalk Hospital to have such dedicated volunteers."