There are around 100 volunteers at Watford General hospital and every one is friendly, energetic and committed. My favourite task is the ward tea trolley because it’s an opportunity to connect with patients - we chat about the book or magazine they are reading, I help with a crossword clue, we laugh about our bad hair day, I tidy their tables, we share our stories.
The bright blue volunteer’s t-shirt is a great ice breaker. Patients often ask “What made you want to do this…?” and every volunteer has their own story as to why. My Mum had COPD and sadly passed away in 2018. I shall never forget the kindness of the team at St Richard’s hospital in Chichester and I wanted to ‘give back’ and make a difference. I remember the two housekeepers on Mum’s ward; they brought tea and biscuits when needed, hunted for Mum’s favourite protein shake (banana) and kept Dad amused. Nothing was too much trouble.
When Mum passed away, I wanted a change of direction. It needed to be something very different, where I would be challenged, learn new things and help people. I remembered those two housekeepers, read up about the NHS and WHHT and applied to volunteer.
We are always busy and no two shifts are the same. We take belongings brought in by relatives up to the wards, serve tea and lunches, sort donations, assemble care bags for staff and deliver food and water to isolation areas. Some tasks are really sad, such as parcelling up belongings of patients who have passed away so they can be posted to relatives, or talking to a patient who has just been given bad news. But others really lift your spirits. One patient turned 80 and I took up the most amazing huge balloon, cards and presents from her family. Giving out Easter Eggs was fun too!
The volunteer leaders are friendly and supportive. They recognise that we give our time for free and so make it fun and rotate us on different tasks. We are trusted to use our initiative so we can be responsive and spend time with patients as needed. For example, recently I was serving tea to an elderly lady; she was clutching a napkin with a phone number on it and was very distressed because she couldn’t reach her daughter. Looking at recent callers, it was clear she’d written down the number incorrectly but I was able to ring her daughter, get them connected and reassure her that the only reason her Mum had not picked up was because the phone volume was too low. Easily sorted and she was so grateful.
Volunteering at Watford GH during Covid-19 has been a very intense but rewarding experience. The dedication of all the staff is amazing to see. The team spirit is really strong and it is a privilege to be invited into their world.