Volunteer Gary supports dying people in hospital and their families

by Gary Attridge Marie Curie Companion volunteer at Musgrove Park Hospital Gary is a Marie Curie Companion at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, Somerset. He is one of 13 recently trained volunteers who provide support to dying people and their families at Musgrove Park Hospital. Gary reflects on his role and why he thinks the new service provides such valuable support for dying people, their families and hospital staff. Gary is a Marie Curie Companion volunteer

I volunteer on Thursday evenings, from 6-9pm. I’ve sat with three different patients and families to offer assistance and support. Support could be reading letters, poetry or the newspaper to the patient or we could talk about life in general – things like the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy or other news stories.
I say "my name’s Gary, I am a Marie Curie Companion here at Musgrove Park Hospital". And then we go from there. Some people like to be serious. Others like a bit of jovial chat. We tailor our mood to that of the patient. Sometimes the patient is not conscious. We will still talk to them. It’s important, so that they know they are not alone. People are sometimes lonely and that’s where we can make a difference. Some are on their own – they have not got any visitors. Others may not have a visitor at that particular time. People like to chat and often tell us their life stories. Sometimes there is a relative with the patient. They may have been sitting there for hours. You can suggest they could go and have a cup of tea or we can take over from them so they can take a break. From chatting there could be things that the doctors and nurses may not have explained clearly. You can let the medical staff know that they need to go over something again. Also we may provide information on local support groups. It’s not just about support for patients - we’re here to provide support for relatives too. When you walk away, you appreciate you have made a difference, and you feel the benefit from supporting another human being. It’s the feeling that you have done something well. The hospital staff welcome us, as unfortunately they don't have the time to just sit with one patient. They're too busy on the wards tending to everyone, so we're an added benefit to all. The training was very good – very comprehensive. There is a support mechanism for us should the role affect us in some way - there’s someone we can ring if we need some emotional support ourselves. I donate three hours a week, which is feasible for someone who is employed full-time. I’m an HR manager, which is also about talking to people and helping to make their lives complete. I'm 57 years old and I've lost people close to me. I believe the donation of time perhaps the most valuable thing we possess and the greatest gift we can make. It’s about getting involved and making a difference to others who at that particular time are less fortunate than ourselves.

Are you interested in becoming a Marie Curie Companion volunteer?

We're looking for more volunteers to help provide emotional and practical support to dying patients and their families at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, Somerset. All Marie Curie Companions are specially trained to enable them to provide patients at Musgrove Park nearing the end of their life with appropriate emotional and practical support. If you’d like to find out more about becoming a Companion, there is a drop-in session between 6.30pm and 8.00pm on Thursday 25 September in the boardroom at Musgrove Park Hospital (located in the Old Building). Alternatively you can contact Julia Bearne on 07730 751685 or email julia.bearne@mariecurie.org.uk. No previous experience of volunteering is required.