Wouldn’t it be lovely – Volunteering ... - British Lung Foun...

British Lung Foundation

50,115 members60,145 posts

Wouldn’t it be lovely – Volunteering for the NHS

Greenthorn profile image

When I first became a member of the Health Unlocked community, I had intended to post accounts of my visits to University College London Hospital where I work as a Volunteer. My role is Ward Musician, and to begin with, I would carry a portable keyboard onto a ward and play at patients’ bedsides. But since the onset of Covid 19, I use a Bluetooth speaker and play patients requests from my phone using the Spotify app.

However, I cannot recall ever posting anything on the site. So today is a first! And it’s a long one!

This account is of last Monday’s visit. Ordinarily, I pair up with Lisa, a former nurse, and together we go around two wards. Our uniform consists of a pink T-shirt, a customised lanyard and Id badge and a bright, lemon-yellow enamel tag, displaying your name in thick black text and held by a powerful magnet underneath one’s shirt. .

Lucy and I were asked to escort a young Indian man, newly recruited, allowing him to see how we approach, and speak with patients, although his initial role would be as a Rapid Response Volunteer, involving paper rounds, buying food at patients requests and other ferrying jobs.

The young Indian man was wearing the newly issued T-shirt, – a florid kind of fluorescent pink, which I’ll call fuchsia. The older T-shirts are a dusty pink colour which Lucy was wearing but I’d forgotten mine but was allowed to continue wearing my bright salmon pink Ted Baker T-shirt! The three of us would not have been out a place in a strawberry and custard trifle!

Off we went to the main hospital building, 16 floors in all and 6 high-speed lifts. As most of the patients I see are elderly, hard of hearing or LIVING with dementia, it is vital to arrest their attention quickly. I have been trained to say, “living with dementia” instead of saying “suffering from dementia”. I gave loads of tips to the young Indian, e.g., always use the patients first name to arrest their attention. I ask patients about their previous jobs and their hobbies which urges them to talk about something they have enjoyed, and which uplifts them – increasing general positivity in the ward. I have seen new volunteers eager to get a “connection” with elderly patients, looking to impress, but I always advocate a slow approach – there is no need to rush at all. It’s often sufficient for a patient to see that you are simply with them, and for them; you don’t always need words to show your support. Gestures and good eye to eye contact are often sufficient to show support.

Since we are often within two metres of a patient, we must wear a mask AND a visor. The first time I wore the visor, was when visiting recommenced in July of last year, my vision was a little misty and it was only a week later that the receptionist told me to remove a thin film cover on each side of the visor!

Whenever I meet a patient with the name of Richard, I always recall a conversation with the first Richard I ever met on the ward. It went like this: “Hi Richard, how you doing?” He replied, “People that call me Richard disapprove of me”. I answered, “Is that right Dick?”

Yesterday was a great visit. Many of the staff know me and see the results of my playing music to patients. Pre Covid, I was allowed to carry a portable keyboard into the ward and set up at the bedside to play song tunes to a patient. That worked well, though my repertoire was not that great. However, I had a trump card, and that was a Bluetooth speaker and the Spotify app, enabling me to play almost any musical request back to a patient. I can remember playing sea-shore music to an elderly man until he told me didn’t like seagulls so that I had to dim the volume ha ha. Another time I deliberately chose to play “You’re a Pink Toothbrush, I’m a Blue Toothbrush” to a male patient who looked like Max Bygraves, the entertainer who recorded that song. I remember the patient was greatly amused and joined in with the whistling part following the lyric “every time I hear you whistle” (whistle) it makes my nylon bristle”!

Yes, Monday’s visit was good. It is very helpful when staff and patients can see and say your name from the badge being worn. It makes for a friendly environment and a strong sense of teamwork. The Indian lad was very observant but a little shy. He told me his brother was already in the country and had been studying medicine for some years, and this was the route he wanted to take. At one point on our rounds, I could see my colleague Lisa (not her real name) bend down so that she could talk to a seated patient at eye level. I remarked on this to Mahesh, (the Indian lad, and not his real name) that Lisa’s response here was perfect, maintaining eye contact at the patient’s level. But it was a few minutes later that I noticed Mahesh was wearing a black long-sleeved woollen shirt underneath his T-shirt, and hospital protocol demands that arms should be bare from the elbow down. I gestured to him that I’d like a private word. I pointed this out to him, but he said he found it cold, and that he’d only been in the country a matter of weeks. I was firm and said we all need to follow hospital rules and that I could ask him to return to the office. But I compromised, asking him if he would roll his sleeves up a little to reveal his wrists. Thankfully he did so.

There were some real moments of joy yesterday. The first was with a patient who I’ll call Dennis. He was seated in a chair beside his bed, looking rather pensive and solitary, slightly hunched up and peering into space. Spontaneously I switched into an entertainment mode, pointed to him, and began singing “It’s a Lovely Day Today”, an Irving Berlin song from the musical Call Me Madam. It’s a sprightly, happy little number. Perry Como among others has recorded it. Dennis looked at me and smiled and asked, “Have I met you before?” I answered, “Brixton Prison”. But I couldn’t stop laughing at how outrageous this comment was! Thankfully Dennis laughed too. Then Lucy, who was with me, along with Mahesh, asked him if he liked music. “Very much”, he answered. Lucy said, “What would you like?” He answered, “It’s a Lovely Day Today”. We all laughed. I chose the Perry Como recording and played it through the Bluetooth speaker, having first located it on Spotify. Dennis looked straight into my eyes as I mimed the song in front of him, making little impromptu dance moves. Another patient, dressed ready to go home, came and joined in with the singing. Anyone could see that Dennis was having a great time, occasionally prompted by me to sing a line or two, because I could see his lips remembering certain lyrics. These are clearly the best times when music unlocks memories, and a spark comes back into the patients’ eyes.

The final four patients we met were all ladies, all situated in one bay. It was good to see Mahesh squat down to talk to one of the four who was sitting on her bed, and I noticed too that he had rolled up his sleeves, right up to his elbows. Now that’s what I call fast learning! I was very pleased with him. The same four ladies I’d the previous Wednesday, though one of them had been asleep. Yesterday she was awake, bright-eyed and alert at 90 years of age. I guessed she was from Ireland, but she said she was Glaswegian, so I slapped myself on the wrist in mock punishment. She was fascinated by my Pop-Art design bag, almost graffiti-like. She told me she had worked in the same Glasgow pub for 40 years. I was thinking of playing a Scottish reel or two, but she said she liked classical music. Now that did surprise me, but we often make bad assumptions about people. I chose to play Dolly Op 56:1 by Faure and then Liebestraum No. 3 by Frank Liszt. She was close to tears, telling me how lovely it sounded. My eyes were wet too.

One of the remaining three patients on that bay said she would like anything from a musical. I chose My Fair Lady and picked “Wouldn’t it be Lovely”. So, the song began, “All I want is a room somewhere”, and guess what, two of the three ladies, one lying in bed and the other sitting opposite her, began singing with the music, bang in tune except on the higher notes. And to top it all, the male patient who had earlier joined Dennis to sing “It’s a lovely day today” came by and stopped to join in the singing. It was simply lovely. There was spontaneous clapping all around, from the patient and a cluster of nurses who had been drawn to the singing. It was just magical and heart-warming and an authentic experience of musical theatre! I said to Lucy and Mahesh, “let’s go out on a high”. And so we did. Our presence and the introduction of music had transformed the bay, and we too had been transformed by the patients’ reactions. The world was suddenly a better place!

42 Replies

Thank you for sharing this very inspiring account of your volunteer activities David. I would love to volunteer but in Japan noone is allowed on any wards. Not even family members. I think it's very good for people to have someone to come and say hello and play music. Some people may not have any visitors at all. Mahesh has made a few friends now so hopefully he will continue his volunteer activities and enjoy it too. xx ❤️

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to Caspiana

Thanks Cas. Even last Monday, the elderly male patient who was dressed and waiting to go home, asked if he could become a volunteer. Perhaps he was saying that in the moment of musical exhilaration but we nonetheless gave him the details to pursue his enquiry. At UCLH, they are beginning to allow a visitor by fixed arrangement, once a week, more often a family member. I always make a point of speaking to family members. Sometimes the patient is too ill to speak, too tired or simply asleep so that I always give the visitor a taste of what volunteers do. I feel that I'm an ambassador for the hospital and I believe the visitor too can become an ambassador for the hospital when he or she sees how their loved one is cared for.I think Mahesh had an excellent morning with us having seen a range of patients. And thankyou Cas for inspiring me to write. 🙏🎶🌼💞🌿🌿🌱🌸

Damon1864 profile image
Damon1864Volunteer

Thank you for sharing this with us,you must be so delighted when you and the other volunteers see what a difference you are making to these lovely people. I admire you all. I would love to volunteer but unfortunately I wouldn't be able to go to the shop or anything like that. Have a good night and take care 😊 Bernadette and Jack 🐕 xxxxxx

Lovely tale. It went at a good pace so the length was fine. What a satisfying thing to do. Thank for posting.Kate xxx

Thank you for both the volunteering and your story.My late mother used to be a volunteer library assistant on the hospital wards ….it made both her and the patients day .

At my local hospital there used to be an older lady volunteer who used to chat to patients while sorting any flowers ….now no flowers allowed .

Caspiana profile image
Caspiana in reply to knitter

Same in Japan. They stopped people bringing flowers for people. I think it's quite sad. xx

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to Caspiana

Hi Cas, see my reply to Knitter!

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to knitter

Thanks Knitter. I can well understand the joy your mother brought to the wards. You must be very proud of her. Here at UCLH teams of younger volunteers, both male and female, go round and make paper tissue flowers at the bedsides. The other week I watched two girls learning how to make them in the office. Using a stack of different coloured tissue paper and then accordion folding them but I didn't see the next bit. Very often they are tied to the rail at the end of the bed and look very pretty. Such a simple thing yet giving great pleasure.

Tissue paper carnations.

Thank you for sharing your volunteering experience. A great read and you do a wonderful job bringing joy to many. Xxxx🤗

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to sassy59

Thanks Sassy, with such lovely replies I aim to post weekly on my hospital visits. X

Thank you for sharing your latest volunteering experience. Beneficial for all, I’m sure. I can’t wait to read more. My mum is 87 and has been in hospital for 4 weeks. She went in with septic arthritis but got pneumonia while she was in. While my brother and I go to visit her as much as we can but we all live about 150 miles away, I’m sure she would love a volunteer to come and sing for her!

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to helenlw7

Thanks for responding Helenlw7 and I will definitely plan to post weekly updates of my visits. I'm sorry to hear about your mother picking up pneumonia, that's not what we want to hear! And I understand the difficulties with visiting. Some weeks ago, I'd left my Bluetooth speaker on the ward and went back the next day to see if I could find it. I went into the last bay where I used it and began taking to one of the patients. She told he she was going home that day. I said "Great" but I was a bit down because I'd lost my Bluetooth speaker. She immediately said, "we have it". She told me that a nurse had spotted it by another patients bed table and had asked who it belonged to. So this lady said "David the singer". I had been playing Beautiful Dreamer on the speaker and in the moment had been singing along with it! But I'm not a singer ha ha. Entertainer maybe. I wish your mum well.

helenlw7 profile image
helenlw7 in reply to Greenthorn

Thanks. My daughter is driving up today but Birmingham to Lancaster for a one hour visit is hard.

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to helenlw7

Well best wishes from me to your daughter. Do the hospital know the v distance your daughter is travelling? Surely they could use their discretion and allow a two hour visit? Have you tried asking? Ultimately I guess it's the Sister's who will make that decision. So I recommend your daughter asking to speak to the Ward Sister on arrival. I hope it goes well and hats off to your daughter.

helenlw7 profile image
helenlw7 in reply to Greenthorn

They're adamant about the 1 hour slot. Only 3 visitors are allowed in each bay and each patient can have a visitor for one of the 2 hours visiting time. They know how far away we've because yesterday I asked if my daughter and I could share the one hour slot, each of us having half an hour it would mean we could share the driving, but no, it's not allowed! One of my sons lives the nearest in my family a mere 2 hours away so he's been 3 times but my other son lives near Gloucester which way to far to go there and back in a day! I know hospitals have to have rules, but sometimes I'm sure they could be benta little. I'm going next week and I know I'll spend the following day in bed!

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to helenlw7

I'm really sorry to hear of the stance on this and disappointed that they can't exercise a little discretion. Do they have a Family Liaison Officer operating on that ward? He or she might press for a relaxation of the rules. I'd still ask for a sit down conversation with the Ward Sister. I'm with you on this!

helenlw7 profile image
helenlw7 in reply to Greenthorn

Thanks for that. I will ask to speak to the sister when I go up next week. I’ll go with a positive mind but I’m not sure I’ll get anywhere!

I didn’t know you could be a music volunteer in hospital Thank you for that. Sounds like fun My husband plays music at the local dementia morning He says it’s amazing to see the change on the people who have dementia when they hear songs and music. How animated they become. Take care. X

That's really great to hear, Watergazer. Yes it IS amazing to see a face transformed by musical memories and long forgotten words tripping off the tongue. Sometimes I would prompt that memory by making the lip shape of a word or words in the song. I think 6 years ago Ward Musician, was a new concept at UCLH. A neighbour told me about the role and I applied just for the hell of it believing a queue of guitarists would be favoured for the job. Anyway I was interviewed and got the job without even me playing a note! For sure, I will endeavour to post weekly updates. 🎶❤️

A lovely account of your day in the hospital volunteering, thank you for sharing. Its good that you are bringing a smile to people x

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to Izb1

Thanks lzb1, I'm going to try and write weekly accounts. I'm glad you enjoyed the reading for it encourages me to go again!

Really good of you to volunteer and share the experience with us. Thank you. John

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to johnderby

It's a pleasure to recount these stories John, but less so to put them in print ha ha. Still, Cas and Katinka have inspired me to have a go!

Please keep the stories coming they are really interesting and informative. John

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to johnderby

No pressure then ha ha.

Hi Greenthorn, what a lovely day it must have been. Good for you. We all need a ray of sunshine in our days. Take care, Maximonkey

Hi Maximonkey,It was one of the best mornings I've had at the hospital, but all visits produce a few gems and I will try and reflect the sunshine to this forum!

What a very rewarding role you play in the hospital. Entertaining and cheering people up. So rewarding. Really enjoyed reading it all David. Hope you're keeping as well as possible. Brian

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to Bingo88

Thanks Brian, I sometimes feel like a cross between Stan Laurel and Danny Kay! One thing is for sure, when I step onto the ward I become another person, ceetainly in no way self- conscious of my antics! Health wise I manage my bronchiectasis and I'm only troubled by arthritis and a degenerative right knee, but even then, music can work wonders to produce a skip or two!

Bingo88 profile image
Bingo88 in reply to Greenthorn

Yes your so right. Prefer my music to the rubbish on the TV these days most of the time. Hope you have a good weekend

Your role as a volunteer must be so rewarding and very much needed for the patients, especially long term patients. I can imagine the faces when they recognise a song and can sing along with you. Why, oh why don't they do this in other hospitals. Thank you for sharing your day helping others xxx😊

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to HollyBoyd

Thanks HollyBoyd, yes it's a light-bulb moment when someone a tune flicks a memory switch. All I have is a Bluetooth speaker and a premium Spotify account which is £10 per month. There is no reason why each hospital ward doesn't invest in such a facility but staff of course cannot afford such time away from my nursing treatment and the hospitals very much need volunteers. UCLH are very forward in this area. 4 visiting dogs are now allowed in to visit selected patients. And I have pioneered the role winning Volunteer of the Year 20/21🙏

HollyBoyd profile image
HollyBoyd in reply to Greenthorn

I love the idea of dogs been allowed into the wards, all very therapeutic but have to be clean and only to interact with certain patients, I would guess!

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to HollyBoyd

Yes, not any old dog. I'm sure they are trained up their owners would also have to go through the security hoops and take a lateral flow test before each visit. Last week I met a volunteer outside the lifts on the 9th floor (I'd got out one stop early) and she was the owner of a lovely dog, a Japanese Shiva! And selected patients only.

Japanese Shiba dog at the hospital.
HollyBoyd profile image
HollyBoyd in reply to Greenthorn

What a handsome looking dog, a rare breed I would think but probably has a lovely nature, just right for the job 🐺 xxx

🥰🥰🥰That's a heart warming story.

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to Alberta56

I'm glad you enjoyed it. I will try and post weekly.

You do an honourable and important job. Just lovely to read ☺️

You do a wonderful job, thank you for telling us something about it.

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to CDPO16

Thanks, that's kind of you to say. I do feel very privileged in being able to make these weekly visits and be part of a wonderful team.

CDPO16 profile image
CDPO16 in reply to Greenthorn

From what I read the privilege works both ways Greenthorn.

👍

You may also like...