Volunteering at a children’s hospice

Since around June 2017, I’ve done some occasional voluntary work at a local (half an hour away is local isn’t it?) children’s hospice.

So what is a children’s hospice I hear you say? Well, to sum it up, it’s essentially a clinical environment with lots of specialist staff and equipment that can accommodate children with a whole host of life-shortening illnesses, but looks as unlike a hospital as possible.

So there’s lots of bedrooms for the ill children to stay the night in, with lots of equipment to support their various needs, but that’s just a small part of what the hospice is all about.

The majority of the site actually looks more like a standard primary school classroom. The walls are plastered in drawings by children, with vibrant cartoons. The particular hospice I volunteer at is amazing. For a kid, it must seem like paradise.

There’s an arts and crafts room, a library, a music room, a ‘teenage room’ filled with games consoles, away from the ‘younger kids’ area, I could go on and on. In all the time I’ve spent there, I’ve never seen a kid get bored. And that’s the point of the hospice, right there. It’s a friendly place they can go to a few times a week, and get completely lost in the fun they’re having. It helps to take the minds of the ill children and their healthy siblings off the tough times their family is going through.

I’m considered a ‘sibling support volunteer’, and essentially, my main job is to supervise the siblings of the ill children. In the situation of a multi-child family, where one of the children is terminally ill, I imagine a lot of the attention is diverted away from the healthy sibling, as the family want to give the ill child the absolute best life they can, given the circumstances.

So when I’m supervising a healthy sibling, I’m just helping them to have fun for a little while, and giving them the freedom to do what they want to do, and be the absolute centre of my attention.

Of course, I’m just making general assumptions when talking about siblings getting less attention. I’ve seen many, many families that cope incredibly well with the awful hand they have been dealt, and still manage to give all of the children, ill or not, as much attention as possible. So in most cases the purpose of the sibling support volunteering is to just take the sibling out of an environment where ‘the illness’ is the only thing on everyone’s mind, and to allow them to have some fun.

To be honest, the fun is shared by everyone, both the volunteers at the hospice, and the children we’re supervising. If you ever meet someone who says that playing hide and seek or painting awful pictures and getting caked in paint isn’t fun, then you shouldn’t trust them, as they’re lying.

There’s one more thing I’d like to talk about here.

The particular hospice I volunteer at has an amazing service available that before starting there, wasn’t something that would have crossed my mind. I’m not sure if any other hospices have this, but this one has a series of, let’s call them ‘grieving rooms’.

These rooms are fairly neutral, white walls, comfortable chairs, with a bed in them. This isn’t an ordinary bed though. If I remember correctly, there is equipment within the bed itself, that acts to cool it.

Now you must understand that in many situations, even if deterioration of a terminally ill child is slow, and their passing away is expected, that when they do pass, it is a massive shock to the systems of their family members.

Now at the hospice, when a child passes away, a family can choose for their child to remain in the special ‘cooled bed’ for a short time, to allow them to process what has happened, to say their final goodbyes, and ultimately to allow the grieving process to begin before the child is buried, for example.

Now the brilliant thing about this service, is that it’s actually (if I remember correctly) available for families to use, even if they hadn’t made use of the hospice before their child had passed away.

I imagine grief, and in particular the grief associated with losing a child is incredibly difficult to live with. So anything that can help to ease that pain is well worth the time.

This has been a bit rambly, but I don’t think I really had much to particularly talk about.

But I do like that the focus of the volunteering at the hospice is to help the children, ill or not to have fun, and to enjoy their lives.

And that’s what being a Doctor is about. Making people happy. Helping them to enjoy their life right now. It’s not all about saving lives and making people better. Sometimes for whatever reason, you just can’t do that. A Doctor is someone to trust, to lean on when times get tough, and someone to comfort you in the most difficult times of your, or a loved one’s life.

I can’t wait to be a Doctor.

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