Peter, a friend and a listener

1 May 2015

Peter has been a hospital ward volunteer since January 2014. He volunteers on Friday evenings on a high dependency ward, predominately helping older patients and those suffering with dementia. By day, Peter works in financial services. His ultimate goal is to quit his day job and volunteer full time while travelling around the world.

Here Peter tells us about his reasons for wanting to become a hospital volunteer and how he helps out on the ward.

"I became a hospital volunteer mainly because of my experiences with my mother.  Sadly, my mother died in 2011 after a long battle with illness. During her final years she spent a great many weeks in and out of hospitals. I was always greatly impressed by the care and dedication of the hospital staff. What struck me most however, was that despite the high quality of medical care, very little resource was available to address the patient’s emotional needs. Patients often had very few people to talk to and nothing to do. Many patients, especially the elderly such as my mother, were simply very lonely.

"When I started volunteering over a year ago I wanted to try to alleviate some of the loneliness and boredom I knew many patients would be feeling. I wanted to be a listener, a friend or simply a visitor to any patient that had none. My first few days were a little scary. Fortunately, despite being rushed off their feet, the incredible ward staff somehow found the time to show me the ropes and get me started doing little things to help out. Over the following weeks I developed a routine which I’ve loosely stuck with ever since:

"I arrive around 5.30pm (or as soon as I can make it for my day job). After scrubbing up and getting changed I help with the dinner service. Only trained staff are permitted to feed the patients but I’m often able to help them feed themselves in variety of ways. Many older patients or those suffering from dementia who might otherwise not eat, will eat unassisted with a little encouragement or a little company. Once dinner service is complete I help with the tea trolley. Everyone loves a hot drink.

"Afterwards, I assist the ward staff in collecting dirty cups and plates often pulling up a chair to chat to a patient in the process. While it’s nice to just approach someone’s bed and start a conversation, in reality introductions always go a little smoother if you have a reason to say hello. Collecting cups and plates is as good a reason as any.

"Many patients just want someone to talk too. Often all I have to do is listen. There are patients at the Royal Free from all over the world. Being passionate about travel myself I love to listen to their stories. Many have lived extraordinary lives and it’s a privilege to hear their tales of life, love, travel and wonder.

"Patients suffering from dementia can be a little more challenging. Having experienced dementia in my own family I was confident when I started volunteering that I knew the best way to help. Unfortunately all patients with dementia are different. The Royal Free provides excellent training for identifying and caring for the needs of dementia sufferers. I’m slowly learning how to address each patient’s individual needs. If all else fails, simply holding someone’s hand can make a huge difference.

"Volunteering at the Royal Free is a very rewarding experience. I used to give money to charities but I was never quite sure if I was making a difference. Since I started volunteering, I’m certain that I am. In the future I hope to volunteer in other countries around the world. Thanks to the Royal Free, its interesting, well-travelled patients and knowledgeable staff, I’ll have some great volunteering experience and some great stories to take on the road with me."

Find out how you can volunteer at the Royal Free London.

When he’s not working or volunteering, Peter writes a blog about long term travel. Read it here: Back to travel

Image: Peter in his volunteer uniform.