Sandra Robertson once made a woman in the hospital laugh, and then the woman cried.
“I haven’t laughed in years,” the patient said.
Robertson is known as a Hospital Friend or Friend of the Emergency Department. She goes to Auckland’s North Shore Hospital every Tuesday to spend time with the patients in Ward Two, which is the stroke and renal ward.
“We do everything that a friend would do for you. We don’t do anything medical. We’re here for conversation, comfort, tears and tissues, hand-holding and just to be there with somebody,” Robertson said.
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“We talk about things which are not health-oriented. Their work, their hobbies … If they can’t talk to us, we can talk to them about things.”
The St John Friends of the Emergency Department programme launched at the North Shore Hospital’s emergency department in 2002, before charge nurse Jason Russell invited the volunteers to cover Ward Two, as Hospital Friends as well.
Robertson has been volunteering at the hospital for 10 years and said she gets to know the patients who stay a long time or return regularly for dialysis.
“I once asked an elderly lady, “What can I do for you?” She said, you can make me laugh.”
So Robertson made a quip to one of the nurses.
“The patient laughed and then she cried. She said I haven’t laughed in years,” Robertson said.
“We all bring our own personality that adds to the ward.
“We’re also here for families when there’s a death, and we do have deaths. It’s part of life.”
Judy Sinclair is a new volunteer, but has always known about the work St John does. She joined because she wanted to do volunteer work in retirement.
Sinclair said since she started, she has observed the colour come back into the faces of people at their most vulnerable, when Hospital Friends visit.
“I feel very passionate about this ward. I’m a people person,” Sinclair said.
“You’re seeing life and you’re able to make a difference … We are a part of the ward.”
Ward Two charge nurse Jason Russell said the Hospital Friends make a big difference to patients.
“It’s an opportunity to have someone else to talk to there’s a lot of waiting in hospitals. They’re part of the team on the ward.”
There are 45 Friends of the Emergency Department and eight in Ward Two. They fill three four-hour shifts every day, so more volunteers are needed.
Russell said they are looking for both men and women of all ethnicities and ages.
Volunteers undergo police checks and an interview before observing two shifts and going through four weeks of hands-on training.
In return, volunteers get free parking and morning tea, as well as free entry to first-aid courses.
Friends of the Emergency Department are present at 19 hospitals around the country, while Hospital Friends are in four of those plus three others. Ideally, there would be three volunteers on every shift but sometimes that isn’t possible due to the number of volunteers.
For more information about becoming a St John Friends of the Emergency Department or Hospital Friends volunteer, call 09 526 0528 x 8908 or visit stjohn.org.nz.
The St John annual Heart of Gold Appeal runs throughout April. To donate, visit heartofgold.org.nz or any ASB branch.