WHEN Andreina Waugh departs University Hospital Waterford after completing one of her brief shifts, she knows that she has made a positive difference to people’s day.
Around 18 months ago the mother of three saw an advert looking for volunteers to help provide some fun for sick children in hospital. With her kids long-grown up, she had some time she could give but more importantly, she had an awareness as to how difficult a time it is for youngsters in the unfamiliar surroundings of a hospital. When she was a teenager, she spent the best part of a week worrying alone in a Dublin hospital as her parents had no transport to visit.
Having completed the Garda vetting process and a training day, Andreina now spends a couple of hours a week in the hospital bringing her trolley of toys to kids in paediatric wards and isolation units.
“Often they’re highly stressed,” she explains, “as they’re waiting to go down for operations and if it’s delayed you can feel the anxiety of the kids and parents on the day. We’ll ask if they want a picture from Paw Patrol or Frozen or whatever they’re interested in, give them paints or crayons or maybe let them make a bracelet. It just distracts them and you can see their stress levels reduce by the time we leave them.”
The purpose of the team of volunteers is not to provide a fun service for the kids during their stay and as most of the children at UHW aren’t in long-term, there is no fear that the work becomes too emotionally straining having struck up an emotional bond with the youngster.
As well as restoring a bit of normality to the lives of the children thanks to their range of toys for all ages, they provide support to the parents as well.
“Sometimes the parents come in with their babies and they might have only seen nurses and doctors on the day so we might give them a magazine or have a chat with them. I said to one parent recently ‘your baby’s lovely’ and she said ‘do you want to hold him, I’ve been doing it all morning’. Just giving her that break for five or ten minutes where she could get a coffee was really worthwhile.”
“Anybody who’s had a child in hospital knows they’d do anything to help the kids. That little bit of support makes an awful lot of a difference for the children and parents. It’s a lovely thing to do really.”
The team of volunteers at the hospital are all from different backgrounds but echo that there is nothing more rewarding than meeting a child nervous but leaving them happy.
“A lot are mothers who have had children who are now grown up – they find themselves with a few more hours on their hands. People who are retired and wondering what they can do with the next stage of their life. There are also young students who are doing social care and trying to get involved with helping kids. We have one girl who is in a wheelchair and she comes in to help as well. The whole idea is to make it accessible to everyone.”
“You forget your own problems and realise there are people with greater problems than you. There’s nothing that tugs on the heartstrings more than a sick child. When you walk away you’re just glad that your own children are ok.”
Children in Hospital Ireland are appealing for volunteers to give two to three hours a week in University Hospital Waterford to facilitate play in the Out-Patients and Accident and Emergency Departments.
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer with CHI email [email protected], call (01) 290 3510, or visit www.childreninhospital.ie/volunteers.
The more volunteers they have, the more at ease the children at UHW will be.