The Joy of Sharing
We regularly ask young people to tell us what would most comfort them if they were in hospital. Top of the list - a phone and a phone charger. But what else?
Answers are varied: laptop; guitar; Playstation; teddy; good book; lipstick; TV; cosy blanket; their own pillow; a packet of spices to liven up their meals; fluffy socks; a special photo.
When a very young child goes to hospital, parents pack a bag full of the things that will help smooth the transition from home to the ward. Favourite books, DVDs, cuddly toys, special blanket, slippers etc.
Pregnant women pack in advance with all the practical and emotional objects that will help them through the first few days post delivery.
But when an older person is admitted to hospital, often those special things are forgotten. So what could young people do to bring comfort to a group of people who society sometimes forgets?
Over the summer, we enlisted the help of 350 students, aged 15-17, from Elevation Networks' National Citizen Service (NCS), creating a programme of uplifting events for older patients in Watford and Ipswich hospitals.
During the Autumn half term week, we did it it again at Watford hospital. The NCS students created goody bags for all, full of simple gifts. The bags also focussed on reminiscence, and included some memory triggers of Novembers past: Armistice Day; Autumn leaves; Bonfire Nights many years ago, etc. Once the gifts had been distributed, the patients and students shared memories, with some of the young people using their special talents, whether music, drama or poetry, to lift the spirits of everyone on the ward.
Meticulously prepared by us and their NCS leaders, during our highly interactive induction we not only asked students to think about the things that would most comfort them, we also asked them to share their thoughts on experiences that had made them feel very embarrassed or uncomfortable, and what they would most miss if they were away from home. Mostly, of course, it was their family – but their own bed, certain smell, favourite food, and the freedom to be themselves, were just some of the many things that were discussed. There were both tears of emotion and, often, much laughter as they recalled and shared their thoughts. All agreed that realising that others shared the same anxieties, was a comfort.
Relating those thoughts to frail, older people on the wards - many of whom do not have the ability to effectively communicate their feelings - the students gained a sense of what might be going through the minds of those patients, and their carers.
And the visits have been a great success. For older people in hospitals and care homes, the opportunity to share their long-term memories with someone new is limited. Fellow patients often have complex communication issues making conversation almost impossible. Busy ward staff are, sadly, rarely in a position to stop and chat for any length of time. So when a young person, with time to spare, and great hearing, speech and sight, listens with enthusiasm, the benefits are enormous. When it’s time for the young people to go back home, their visits leave a powerful legacy: the sense of being valued.
Isn’t that something that we all want to share?