Can I help?

When I started volunteering for Tameside Hospital I became the 400th volunteer with 399 currently volunteering. Since that time I have volunteered on the Cardiology Ward and Surgical Units; doing tea rounds and helping staff and patients. It was now time to try a different volunteering role. For many people with mobility problems, trying to get across a large hospital for your outpatient appointment or visiting a friend or relative can be a huge ordeal. Even finding where you are meant to be or checking in for your appointment can be difficult if you are under stress or have never even been to the hospital before. This is where the information and buggy service come in. All manned by helpful volunteers in yellow from 9am-4pm weekdays and on three days a week until 7.30pm. I joined the Wednesday evening volunteers in a crash course in being helpful. Martin was behind the desk and Ian and Malcolm were running the buggy service. Three scooters are usually in operation in the daytime but the new evening service which began at the start of the year just uses one at the moment. Martin would take a call from a part of the hospital for a patient to be dropped off elsewhere. This might be to go for an x-ray or blood test or to and from the entrances and the outpatient clinics. The inpatients are moved by the hospital porters but outpatients with limited mobility are helped by the buggy service now in its 11th year. I went with Ian to collect the patients. He would usually ride the scooter to the patient’s location, let them get on it and walk alongside operating it then dropping them off. Due to the safety of the patients I wasn’t able to help operate the scooter when the patient was on it but I helped by chatting to them or their relatives, holding a walking stick if necessary and helping Ian with where he needed to be.

On our first trip from the North of the building to the South Ian rode me back to experience what the patient experienced. It was a little bit strange as Ian pointed out, because it was like sitting at the driver’s seat of a car while someone else drove but you soon got used to it. It was actually very pleasant. One lady had walked all the way to the x-ray department and then had struggled to get back so the scooter was very useful. Another lady returning from a blood test asked if she had to drive and was politely reassured by Ian that he would be taking care of it at which point she said “thank goodness”. I then got the chance to drive the scooter back and it was very easy to use but you needed to have your wits about you. People walked out of doors suddenly, children ran out and trolleys whizzed around corners. I soon got used to slowing down at doors and keeping to the window side as I went down corridors. Reversing out of lifts was a bit difficult and when Ian did it he made it look easy. I guess that is what comes with practice.

There were a few people who Ian had met before because their relatives had been in the hospital for a while and two ladies commented that they hadn’t seen a woman before on the buggy service. Ian said there was a lady on a Thursday but the volunteers were mainly men who brought the scooters out and women who were on the desk. After many of the clinics had quietened down, I helped on the desk. Malcolm showed me how to help people to check in on the machines for their appointments and they were grateful for the help. I watched in awe as Ian, Martin and Malcolm told visitors with extreme detail where each of the wards was. They reassured me that once I had been a few times to the places I would know too.

I absolutely loved this role. I felt helpful, useful and everyone was extremely grateful. The three volunteers or perhaps they should be the three musketeers, were all retired and had mostly immediately taken up volunteering after they stopped working. It was a pleasure to learn from them and they made me feel confident in my new role and like I could offer people lots of useful help.