Corrimal resident Raewyn Proctor travelled back to her homeland, New Zealand, to be by her mother’s side in the last months of her life.
That time was painful, but precious, and the support of nursing staff and volunteers was priceless.
That’s why 12 months ago the 61-year-old decided to volunteer at Port Kembla Hospital’s palliative care ward. To lend an ear to those at the end of their lives, and also provide some comfort and support to their loved ones.
And though during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Proctor – and the rest of the hospital’s 70 volunteers – are not able to enter the hospital, they’re still able to connect with patients.
A new initiative, coined Check-in and Chat, means that those who are terminally ill still receive regular phone calls from a volunteer to check on their well-being and just catch up.
“Sometimes they like to tell you about their lives, some of those pivotal moments. Those things that their family and friends may have heard many times, but they can tell someone new afresh – while reliving those memories at the same time.
“I recently had first-hand experience of being with people who were dying – my mother and a former teacher colleague of mine,” Mrs Proctor said.
“So I thought that experience would help me contribute in my community, I thought it would be a worthwhile thing to do.”
While on the ward, Mrs Proctor and her fellow volunteers would bake cakes for morning and afternoon tea for the patients; they’d offer a hand or foot massage; do some laundry for those without the support of family; or just simply sit down and talk to them and their loved ones.
“When you’re sitting with someone approaching death it’s about slowing down to that pace, recognising when they’re getting tired, and learning when they’re keen to have a chat,” she said.
“Sometimes they like to tell you about their lives, some of those pivotal moments. Those things that their family and friends may have heard many times, but they can tell someone new afresh – while reliving those memories at the same time.”
When the pandemic struck, volunteers like Mrs Proctor still wanted to help out, and now she makes regular calls to a few people, living out their last days at home with palliative care support.
“Palliative care volunteers are very aware that these people are terminally ill, so it’s about making their lives as positive and rich through to the end as we can,” she said.
“It’s more important than ever at this time, a time where loneliness and isolation can be huge for those who are restricted in their movements anyway because they are sick, or elderly, or immobilised.
“Many thankfully have loving family and friends, but you’re just another friendly, caring voice on the end of the line – someone who’s not family who can maybe facilitate a different kind of conversation.”
Port Kembla Hospital volunteer co-ordinator Cynzia Dei-Cont said volunteers worked in many areas of the hospital, and the benefits they brought were “immeasurable”.
“They bring community spirit, community support into the hospital,” she said. “They’ve got the time to sit and listen and bring that extra level of care that healthcare professionals just don’t have time to do.”
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Photo credit: Robert Peet