Patients pay tribute to volunteers who help change livesDecember 24, 2018
Patients pay tribute to volunteers who help change lives: How the army of supporters can turn a tide of anguish – and become lifelong friends
- Now 26,000 people have joined the Daily Mail’s Hospital Helpforce campaign
- The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall have also given their backing
- We talk to both patients and helpers and hear how it has helped them in return
After more than 26,000 readers rallied to answer the Daily Mail’s call for hospital volunteers, we talk to both patients and helpers – and hear how it has given them so much in return…
My lovely helper became a friend
Breast cancer patient Kim Jones, 52, says volunteer Elsie Grounsell, 72, offered her a lifeline after her diagnosis last year.
Kim, who works for a double glazing company, lives in Wallsend, North Tyneside, with husband Chris, 58, a managing director of a plumbing company.
Elsie, a widow from Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, and a former cancer patient, has volunteered for 20 years at North Tyneside General Hospital.
Elsie, pictured right, says: ‘I was a similar age Kim was when I developed breast cancer. I’ve volunteered in some way or another ever since – I felt so grateful for the care I had, I wanted to give something back’
Kim says: ‘The date I was diagnosed with breast cancer – January 23, 2017 – will stick with me for ever. It came as a complete shock. But it would have been so much more traumatic if it hadn’t been for Elsie.
‘While the doctors had run through what might happen, my head was spinning so much I didn’t really take it on board. Then the staff put me in touch with Elsie. Seeing her made such a difference.
‘It’s tempting to think you’re all alone when you go through something like this but Elsie had also had breast cancer – she knew what it was like, and made me feel so supported.
Breast cancer patient Kim Jones, 52, right, says volunteer Elsie Grounsell, 72, offered her a lifeline after her diagnosis last year
‘My first appointment with Elsie was before I started treatment, I then saw her whenever I went in for more. She made me feel reassured. She took the time to talk through everything thoroughly with me, so I knew what to expect.
‘I had thick dark hair that fell below my shoulder and losing it was one of the worst points. I didn’t want to go out and my confidence vanished.
‘But Elsie gave me advice about how to clip my hair to disguise the bald patches and she chatted to me and made me feel so much better about things.
‘I definitely regard her as a friend. She is such a lovely woman, and she does this all as a volunteer. She is life-enhancing.’
Elsie says: ‘I was a similar age Kim was when I developed breast cancer. I’ve volunteered in some way or another ever since – I felt so grateful for the care I had, I wanted to give something back.
‘I volunteer two days a week for four hours – although that can vary. I volunteer for the Top To Toe support scheme and we give patients practical advice and emotional support. The hospital staff are amazing but we fill in those gaps.
‘Volunteering is now a huge part of my large life. And as much as I would rather not have had cancer, it’s got me involved in things I never would have thought of doing, and met people I never would have otherwise met. So for that I am grateful.’
I signed up after support I got
Carol Looby, 66, a retired air traffic controller assistant who lives in Leeds, describes how a volunteer changed her life in more ways than one.
She says: ‘Just before Christmas five years ago I donated blood as usual then, on the way home, I fell over and broke my thigh bone and needed surgery that evening.
‘I was told I’d be discharged after just four nights – to be honest, I was worried about how I’d manage, as I live alone.
Then the hospital explained I was only allowed home alone because of a scheme run by the Red Cross, Home from Hospital, which provides support with things like shopping and mobility when patients are discharged.
‘By the time I got home, a lady called Beth was already there with a walking frame. Then a young man called Asaim visited me once a week and did the shopping, made tea and hot water bottles: he was a godsend.
‘I kept in touch with the local Red Cross office and was asked if I’d like to volunteer, too. The invitation came at the perfect time as I’d recently retired and was looking for something else to do.
‘Initially I helped out for about ten hours a week at the hospital, in the wheelchair office for people who need to borrow one after they’ve been discharged.
‘I now volunteer for five hours a week helping people in their homes after they’ve been discharged. It’s a lovely feeling to know I’m doing a bit of good and it all came about because a volunteer helped me –they changed my life.’
Power of a cuppa and a chat
Marilyn Ward, 65, a retired hospital administrator from Dereham in Norfolk, volunteers at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital as a ‘settler in’, a scheme to help vulnerable patients into their homes after they have been discharged.
‘There is real satisfaction in knowing that you’ve helped changed someone’s life with something as simple as a cup of tea and a chat,’ she says.
‘I saw this with the first person I helped, a man in his 70s who was recovering from a hip replacement.
He also had depression and anxiety, made worse by the prospect of going back to his house, where he lived alone.
‘My role was to meet him when he was dropped off – then we went into the house together: it was dark, cold and empty, and sitting on the table, neatly laid out, were his car ownership and tax documents.
He said: “I left the documents here so my neighbour could take my car if I died.”
‘It was heart-wrenching. For the first hour I was there, this man wouldn’t look up. But by the time we’d chatted – and I’d even made him laugh – he was able to look me straight in the eye.
‘Two months later I bumped into him and he was a totally different man. When I retired, I wanted to do something useful with my new free time. I felt like being my own boss – this volunteer job is perfect as I don’t do set hours.’
Interviews: Lucy Elkins, Jo Waters and Amanda Cable
Join the hospital helpforce
Whatever your skills or experience, you can make a valued and lasting impact.
You will join the volunteers working in hospitals or with organisations that support the NHS, such as the Royal Voluntary Service, Marie Curie, British Red Cross, and others.
Join us by pledging your time in 2019 at www.hospitalhelpforce.com and clicking on the ‘pledge now’ box.
Thank you – and welcome aboard!
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