Stories of a Hospital Volunteer - "Sm... - British Lung Foun...

British Lung Foundation

50,487 members60,493 posts

Stories of a Hospital Volunteer - "Smile" - 10 January 2022

Greenthorn profile image

Monday the 10th of January was my first visit to the hospital in 2022. I'd taken a lateral flow test that morning and was thankful the result was negative. Because of Covid, I’d heard that my usual ward was closed, and I was to go the floor below which was partially open for volunteers to visit. I was pleased to see security men at the entrance doors, supervising who can and cannot enter. As usual I was joined by Lucy, a co-volunteer. But looking up to see the name of our first patient, I saw what I thought were the words “Merry Christmas” only to re-read it as Mary Christine. But our stay with Mary lasted only a few minutes. She said her mother’s favourite song was “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” but as I began to sing it in jovial mood, she stopped me saying “it will make me cry”. At that point two doctors came to interview her and asked her routine questions to check for dementia.

However, in the adjacent bed was Kim, probably in her seventies. She was a chirpy cockney sparrow of a woman, wiry and thin with a good old London Town accent. I could picture her in a novel by Charles Dickens. She was full of chat and was hoping to go home that same day. She couldn’t wait to get back home and look after her mother. I joked whether her mother had the same lively chat as she did. “No, no, I’m the one who does the talking” and then “I’d even talk to Jack the Ripper!” And she cackled with laughter!

We moved along the corridor, from one bay to another. Some patients are asleep, open mouthed; some just resting in bed or in a bedside armchair. I was drawn to a lady in the corner lying down in bed. She wore large black rimmed glasses and she reminded me of the agony aunt and journalist, Marjorie Proops. Her name was Marie telling me she recognised me from two years ago when she had previously been in hospital and had challenged me to find the Beethoven tune Fur Elise. “And did I?” I asked. “Oh yes” she smiled. She jokingly asked that I guess her age. “Do you think I’m 21?” I had an idea she was in her 80’s, so I said 68. “I’m 101” she said proudly. She requested that I played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. She told me that she played this tune as a girl and whilst at school as a teenager played the piano in assembly as the girls walked in. One day there was a male guest present and he spoke to her telling her she was really very good, and she ought to apply to go to the Royal College of Music and that she may have a chance of being accepted. Well, she was indeed accepted! I played the Moonlight Sonata on the Bluetooth speaker, as she closed her eyes and probably travelled back in time. I asked her if she’d like me to play anything else and she said she liked Nat King Cole. (A favourite of mine in the hospital.) I usually play the up-tempo number “Let There Be Love” but I chose instead “Smile” written by Charlie Chaplin. I didn’t tell her what I had chosen but as soon as the stringed intro had finished so the unmistakeable Nat King Cole voice began “S M I L E … though your heart is aching.” I swear time stood still, and her face lit up with a broad smile. Better than that, she began quietly singing all the words. I know Lucy had tears in her eyes watching what was happening. Wow, 101 years old. Lucy and I were with her for over half-an-hour.

Until then we were on the 10th floor. It was getting near one o’clock and we could have decided to leave but we agreed to go to the 7th floor and give it another 20 minutes.

One lady patient, sitting at the side of her bed, had a problem hearing us. She had lost a hearing aid battery. As luck would have it, I keep a few spares in my back pocket. Luckily too, it was the normal size battery. I offered to put the battery in place for her and she put the hearing aid in her ear and ABRACADABRA she could hear again. She, Sylvia, was so pleased, she even offered me money holding out a £5 note. “No, no” I said, “It’s my pleasure”. She was especially pleased and told me she had made a new year’s resolution to be more positive, and the fact that I had suddenly turned up out of the blue was a reward for her positive resolve.

25 Replies

What wonderful, positive people you are meeting.

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to Dedalus

Thanks Dedalus, they were a bright bunch last Monday but it's not always like that. 3 weeks ago I had a patient accuse me of wearing his shoes, and another saying "your trying to con me". And all I was doing was asking him if he liked music 😄

Damon1864 profile image

Thank you so much for sharing this with us, it's lovely to read. It must be so rewarding to be a hospital visitor volunteer. Have a lovely day and take care 😊 Bernadette and Jack 🐕 xxxxxx

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to Damon1864

Thanks Bernadette and Jack. I was quite nervous and shy when I began this work but my confidence has grown and I've said before, I now feel like a cross between Danny Kaye and Stan Laurel. It seems to work! ♥️

That's wonderful -you were in the right place when needed with the correct sized batteries in your pocket -awesome.I introduced my 9year old daughter to a lady on my ward who was 100 -they got on like a house on fire such a lovely memory.

I can well understand the delight of a hundred year old lady to see your daughter on the ward. That must have been so special. I know - is it Sweden- where children share time with the elderly in care homes, or hospital; I only wish that could happen in the UK. Pre Covid I brought my then 9 year old son on the ward with his guitar. He only strummed a few chords but the ladies loved him. I've got a picture somewhere!🏃

That's lovely your son would have enjoyed that to!My son lives in Stockholm so will ask him re whether they do do visiting -what a great idea.

That elderly lady my daughter met was as sharp as a pin and had lived in our town all her life -she was a joy to chat to.

"Sharp as a pin". I love that expression. Such was the patient I met who said she'd talk to Jack the Ripper!

You’re doing a great job that has many rewards. Xxx

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to sassy59

It's very uplifting Sassy; I usually have a real buzz when leaving and often chat to shop staff at St Pancras Station whilst still on a 'high'.


What a lovely day you had on your ward visit, it's lovely to meet so many interesting people and you always get great reactions from them , especially the ladies!! Really enjoy your posts. Thank you for sharing xx😊

Thanks HollyBoyd, It's true I get to meet some really interesting characters. I do try and use humour quite a lot, and I guess the ladies see that as part of my charm.😄

I'll try and keep the posts weekly.

What a blessing your visits are to those people xx

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to Ergendl

Thanks Engendl - in truth it is I that feels privileged; I'm richer for meeting them. I'm usually on a high whrn I come out of hospital. 🙏

Oh thank you! They are such wonderful tales. You do so much good. And meet amazing people. Another tear/jerker about people who wouldn’t think they are special but they really are!K xx.

Greenthorn profile image
Greenthorn in reply to Katinka46

Yes Kate, they really are special, much the same as on this forum.💗

That’s so good of you, and interesting, am sure that as well as you feeling on high the people you visited will be so happy. I’m newish to this forum, how often do you go and well done for cheering up people. Jean

Hi Jean, and welcome to this forum. I'm scheduled to visit every Monday morning. I'm joined by Lucy a newish volunteer, who began last Spring. It's good to go round in pairs, since we can take it in turns or act as a double act, from bed to bed. Lucy is a retired nurse who worked in ICU. We normally do a slot towards 3 hrs. At the moment, because of Covid, some of the wards are closed (no visitors at all). We can be bedside from just a few minutes to 30 mins + and need to give the figure-work to our Manager. There is a great team spirit. Some volunteers do paper rounds, others shopping, and others work in reception and welcoming duties. But for sure, I think I have the best job. Technically I'm a "Ward Musician" becos I use a Bluetooth speaker and Spotify playlists to bring patients musical requests to the bedside. Pre Covid I would also play a piano keyboard on the ward.

I try to do weekly reports!

I can "see" the people when you talk about them.

Well, one did look like an elderly Marjorie Proops! But thanks for the compliment, or do you have special powers haha.

Only your description.


Thank you for sharing your adventures. It’s good to hear that you do meet such positive people and to pass on the joy of that is beautiful. Grace

Thanks Grace, I'm happy to retell the stories. In fact, that is exactly how I remember them!

You may also like...