Wednesday was the first hospital session I have missed since I decided to stop volunteering. It is a decision tinged with sadness, and I have been reminiscing.
As you might imagine, my visits were overwhelmingly well-received. I was volunteering for three years, on a twenty-eight bed ward, so that adds up to hundreds of visits. Yhe visits which I remember most clearly, however, are those which went badly.
Visit #1. a guy was visiting his wife. The wife was the patient, and was perfectly lovely to me as I stopped by her bed. I presume the chap was her husband, but he said to me “how dare you interrupt us!”. Okay, I am paraphrasing there, but that was the sentiment. At this point I should explain that I particularly liked to talk to family, because I felt they were often neglected by the hospital, and they must be going through the mill as well. So what could I do? I apologised for interrupting them and mover on to the next bed. Before I left, the wife did ask me if I wouldn’t mind popping bad later (presumably when her husband had gone), but at the end of my visits I was tired, and more interested in grabbing a coffee than seeing anybody else. In the early days, I had to go and have a break part-way through the visit in any case, I wasn’t strong enough to make it all the way around the ward.
Visit #2, I walked into a room and saw a chap and a woman. They were unusual because they were dressed in everyday. outdoor clothing, and normally, patients just wore pyjamas. But, you know, not so unusual that it never happened – they could have been visitors, or they could have been a patient just getting ready to be discharged. Either way, I decided to say Hi.
As I got closer, I saw that the man was eating some take-away food from a high-end supermarket. I made a quip to him about the hospital food being so bad, it was not at all unusual to see somebody eating imported food! That was absolutely true – the food really is that bad. Again, I shall paraphrase: how dare you talk to me! I quickly worked out that this chap just visiting somebody, he must have assumed I had mistaken him for a patient, and for some reason he was offended by that. In fact, it didn’t much matter to me whether he was a patient or a visitor. But his reaction was definitely hostile, I could see immediately that it wasn’t going well, so I muttered something about leaving the guy in peace to eat, and moved on.
In highlighting these incidents, I am very aware that I coulkd have read the situation wrongly, but my gut feel warned me off. Both times, I got myself out of there before I knew for sure. But if that were the case, I’d maybe have expected that to happen a bit more frequently than two in maybe a thousand.
And, while not exactly unpleasant, I was once left thinking that I had just encountered Salisbury’s #1 idiot! The conversation started normally, I had my volunteer polo on: I think you volunteers do a wonderful job. I got that a few times, I just used to say thanks, but at the same time I wondered, if you think it is so wonderful, then why not try it yourself? People don’t. Sad to say, but that was always my biggest bugbear – that people don’t get involved. Particularly with stroke, a lot of people can’t, but some people can. I did.
This guy goes on : I had a TIA a couple of years ago. A TIA is a Transient Ischaemic Attack. AKA a mini-stroke, although probably the phrase TIA is as widely-known these days. The keyword there is transcient – it comes, it goes. It is often a prelude to a full-on stroke, which causes more permanent damage. That’s really the only difference between the two.
Anyway, this guy went on to tell me that recovering from a TIA is easy, you just do this and this, to get to that. Both things which I could not do, even three years or so downstream. It is a common mistake – because they can do something, they assume that everybody can. In seeing many patients, I met many people who could not even get out of bed – in factmost of my own stay was spent like that. Let alone do what this guy was suggesting.
I’d already made my mind up about this guy so at that point I just said my goodbyes, and we went our separate ways. But it was one of those roll-your-eyes monents, the guy had no idea. I was always quite happy to talk to people about strokes, but sometimes I just realised that there was no point. I still get that – I hope that when I come across as ignorant (as I must do regularly), I do at least come across as receptive.
It’s funny, isn’t it? All those hundreds of visits that went well, and we end up remembering the few that went badly.