The questions I’ve been most frequently asked during my time volunteering at Watford General Hospital are "What do you normally do?" and “Why are you here?”
The first is easily answered; I work in a pastoral role at Watford Grammar School for Boys helping to support our teenage students. The second takes some thought; it’s certainly not where I expected to be spending my time when school was unexpectedly closed at the end of March. However, I was already very familiar with the wonderful work volunteer services provided to the hospital as I had been taking year 12 students to visit patients for two years. These have primarily been students who were considering medicine as a career but also those who wanted to give something back to their community.
When help was needed I thought I could be of use, and I wasn’t alone! It became apparent at the special COVID-19 training session that many people wanted to help. We weren’t entirely sure what we would be doing, those were the early days of lockdown and none of us knew the effect COVID-19 would be having yet.
The first shifts were quiet; we visited patients, made tea and chatted to those who needed it. No visitors makes a long day in hospital feel like a week. Things started to change quite rapidly, more and more wards became COVID-19 wards, seeing staff for the first time in full face masks and PPE, and we found we had more and more deliveries to make. We took phones, clothes, messages from home and more to patients. Huge amounts of donations for NHS staff started to flood in - food, clothing, and toiletries - and all of this had to be distributed throughout the hospital. COVID-19 wards were first where staff were on 12 hour shifts unable to leave, baking hot and so grateful when we appeared with our trollies full of water and snacks!
I have also spent time in Patient Affairs, answering the phone to the recently bereaved, who are having to deal with a terrible loss in a bewildering time. I have helped collect and pack up the personal belongings of the many COVID-19 patients who were sadly lost, belongings that cannot be collected but have to be couriered back home to loved ones. They were packed with care and respect, it was the only time when on the way home I had to park my car and collect my thoughts for a few moments.
Many other volunteers I have spent time with have been the age of my own students, 16 and 17 years olds who have walked miles, unloaded pallets, answered phones, delivered parcels, packed gift bags, made countless teas and run endless errands and they have done it all without a single complaint. These are students who are still studying at home for A levels next year, as well as coping with the unprecedented stress and uncertainty we are all facing. They have risen to every challenge and I couldn’t be prouder to volunteer with them.