Compassionate retiree volunteers at Greenwich Hospital
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A commercial career spanning forty years as a Chartered Accountant and then training to be an RN was a quantum leap for volunteer John. Now at 75 and retired, John brings his skills from both professions to his volunteer role at Greenwich Hospital’s palliative care ward.
We asked John five questions about his volunteering role.
What made you want to be a volunteer? Why is it important to you?
When I studied nursing in my 60s, forming therapeutic relationships with patients was taught as good nursing practice – but busy nurses don’t have the luxury of time to talk; I learned this firsthand. I wanted to go back and spend time talking with patients, to pick up where I left off as a nurse. So often, there is a real need for more human interaction.
Why did you choose to volunteer with HammondCare? Who and what inspired you?
I live close to Greenwich Hospital and had my first encounters with the wonderful care offered there when my father-in-law and my mother lived out their last days in the palliative care unit. I was then fortunate to finish up my working life there, working for several years as a palliative care nurse; HammondCare staff do palliative care so well – it was the most satisfying and fulfilling time for me.
What roles do you perform as a volunteer? And how do these roles support people in our care?
Patient surveys are my main job. They provide me with an entree to a patient’s room, and very often I end up talking with them for over an hour. I think they like the fact that I’m not there to perform a clinical or medical task. I can take the time to just be with them.
More recently I’ve also done clerical work, based on my commercial experience. With other volunteers, I’ve facilitated monthly mailouts for families and loved ones for HammondCare’s bereavement counsellors. Our biggest yet was for the April memorial service, over a thousand letters. We help patients and families stay connected with what is going on.
What makes being a volunteer rewarding for you?
Being able to offer company to people who may be in their last days. They can talk with me about anything – it’s surprising how easy it often is to find some common ground on which to start a conversation. I hope that my being there makes a difference for them, as it does for me. Every story that someone is prepared to share as they reflect on their life is special, is to be valued. It’s a privilege for me to just be present.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of volunteering with us?
The work we do can be invisible, yet so important. The sense of value in the job comes firstly from HammondCare. We receive regular circulars from CEO Mike Baird acknowledging our contribution and inviting us to special thank you get-togethers. The organisation gives volunteering a high priority. The ongoing support we receive from volunteer coordinators and other staff is really appreciated, too.
HammondCare really values volunteers. With all this support you know you are making a difference to people’s lives. Your contribution is not taken for granted.