The new cohort of ART Butterfly Volunteers are starting to visit patients at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow. One of the team, Tanya Cotter, has offered to write a short account of each visit. Here are her thoughts after her first shift:
Since our training day, I had been looking forward to my first shift, but as the date drew closer I felt a mixture of emotions; On the one hand, I was unsure if I really knew what to do and felt apprehensive and on the other, I was just pleased to be able to get the opportunity to personally support patients nearing the end of their lives.
I read through my training notes on a regular basis to help me feel more prepared, but when the day finally arrived I still felt a mixture of emotions, so knowing that Jo, our ART Butterfly Coordinator, would be there throughout my shift really helped ease my nerves.
After Jo talked me through the paperwork and showed me to the ward, I met Sarah, my first patient. Jo introduced us and said some calming words to help Sarah relax before leaving. I sat on a chair next to the patient’s bed, placed my hand on her shoulder and continued using calming words to let her know she wasn’t alone.
Sarah’s eyes remained closed, but she turned her head to face my direction and it wasn’t long before her breathing calmed down and she became more relaxed. At times, it looked like she ever so slightly opened her eyes, so I made eye contact, smiled and gave assurance that all is well, and that I was there. It seemed surreal being with someone that I had never met before who was nearing death, and although Sarah never spoke, I felt that my presence was making a difference as she seemed so much calmer than when I arrived.
As the end of my shift approached, I let Sarah know that I would be leaving shortly and when the time came, I thanked her and said some calming words before leaving quietly. She seemed to be aware of what I was saying and was much more peaceful than when I arrived, so leaving her wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Overall, my first shift made me realise how important being in the moment is. Thinking and worrying about doing or saying something wrong is understandable, but all I really needed to do was be present and aware, and allow my natural instinct of taking care of another human being to take the lead.
Being with someone who is dying is not an everyday occurrence and although the training we received really helped, each patient is unique and every experience will be different. We can never know for sure what will happen, but the one thing I do know is that the ART Butterfly Volunteers do make a huge difference to the patients, their families and ward staff.