A Day in the Life of Ileen Fisher
Wednesday 30 November 2016
I have had an interest in The Shakespeare Hospice since the inception of the dream way back in 1990 by Francis Prentice and over the years helped in a small way in fundraising. Eventually, at the end of 1998, following an in-depth interview, I was enrolled in the first Volunteers’ Training Course which was run over three intensive days at St. Richard’s Hospice at Worcester where we were given an insight into the whole concept of the Hospice movement with particular reference to the volunteer’s role in it. That “Class of 98” as we called ourselves was very fortunate to be led by Brian Nyatanga, a charming Nigerian Lecturer in Palliative Care who soon put us all at our ease.
When the hospice eventually opened its doors to day patients in February, 1999, I started working in the Reception area - not many people were willing to work on a Friday - and because of my secretarial skills was able to help out with typing of policy documents and the many tasks associated with the creation of this new facility in Stratford.
From the outset, my aim was to work with patients - if I was equipped. So with some fear and apprehension, I moved into the Patient Area in November 1999 and have loved it ever since. Along with the confidentiality ethic involved in all aspects of the Hospice, I now had to call to mind all the do’s and dont's learned in our course. The next most important thing is commitment - we work on a 12-week rota - you advise which days you are available and are then notified when you are required. It is not helpful to change your mind on the day. Patients do not benefit from change in personnel.
I now work alongside a team of volunteers and professionals on Tuesdays in wonderful surroundings with patients who are totally inspiring. On arrival about 9.45 am, I sign in and make sure I am wearing by badge. The volunteers meet with one of the nursing staff who goes through details of patients who are coming in on that day, outlining any special requirements or changes in their condition. We are now told from which illness a patient is suffering - this was not always the case, but more helpful for us. We greet patients as they arrive and settle them in, offering a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits. During the morning, most patients have some form of complimentary therapy, physiotherapy, or work on the diversional therapy table discovering talents they did not know they had, or perhaps have a bath helped by nursing staff. We chat with them, remembering that it is always important to “listen”, and generally meet their needs. The Hospice Chaplain usually has some form of service in the Sanctuary around noon and we can join in with any patients wishing to participate. Before lunch, they are offered an aperitif if they so wish. During the morning, we set up the table for lunch. Lunches are cooked on the premises and I normally serve lunch alongside my fellow volunteers and we sit and have lunch with the patients. Volunteers give a donation for their lunch. This is a very sociable time when there is much interaction between patients and volunteers. Some patients may choose not to come to the table for a variety of reasons and they are served their lunch on trays. From time to time we have theme days - Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday and the now renowned Wimbledon Week Buffet.
After lunch, we help patients back to their chairs where many have a snooze. We clear up the tables and take all the dirty dishes etc. back to the kitchen. Afternoon activities can take various forms depending on the mood of the day to a certain extent. We may do a quiz or word game, read poetry - on one occasion one patient wanted to dance, ,so we cleared the dining area and accommodated her after finding suitable music! During the summer we often take patients out into the garden. Occasionally, we have visiting performers - music groups and such like - and around Christmas we have a visit from children from the local schools singing carols. At that time, we are all encouraged to dress up in suitable attire and have in the past been treated to a mini-panto performed by members of the Hospice staff and volunteers. Like the patients, we sometimes discover talents we never knew we had! Tea and cake is served before the patients are picked up by their drivers to be taken home. Any birthdays are celebrated with a special cake.
Before we leave each day, volunteers are debriefed by one of the nursing staff where we talk about any concerns we have about the patients. It is always important not to go home with any unresolved anxieties. The Hospice is a place of laughter and hope, despite the dreadful illness with which each patient has to deal. We inevitably have great sadnesses, but that helps to put your own life into perspective. One of the features of palliative care is to “maximise the quality of life”. That is what we all try to do for our patients. I always feel pretty tired after my day at the Hospice, but hope that my small contribution may have helped someone else’s day along.