14 July 2015

A day in the life of a volunteer Chaplain

DBleathDick Beath, Head of Investment and Planning at AWP gives a personal perspective on the rewards and challenges of volunteering and how it keeps his feet on the ground.

"I started doing Chaplaincy work with the former Avon Health Authority when I was close to the BRI in Bristol. I was also a carer for my elderly father who had physical and mental health difficulties towards the end of his life, due to a serious head injury he received at the end of the War. So I got used to being around people who were not well.

Working in an office or going to meetings most of my time in AWP means that time on a ward is a complete change and a break too. I do one session a week at the RUH Bath, covering two wards. I check in at the Chaplaincy office at about 9.15am to see who has requested visits. There are usually three or four people who have asked for a Chaplain to visit. I then go and talk with them and others who might want to talk. In my morning I will typically meet with 10 to 15 patients. When I arrive at the ward, sometimes a member of staff will suggest someone who they think would appreciate a visit for all sorts of reasons.

At the very least it is an opportunity to allow the patient - who can be in quite a shocked frame of mind - to reflect on what has happened to them. I usually ask first how long they have been there and why they came in. We might then talk about family and friendship support and anything else they want to chat about. I always make a bee-line for the younger patients as, in one of my wards, they are usually recovering from alcoholism, drug use or self-harm. I see my role in these cases as trying to bring hope into their situations. We will talk about positive things like being occupied and having a support group of friends.

The majority of people I see are elderly and quite a few have dementia. The interesting thing is that the poetry, singing and religious part of their brain remains fully functioning. There are some who live alone and have nobody to visit them, so a visit from someone who cares has quite an effect.

In all cases I offer to say a short prayer for them, and despite the fact that in many cases this is an unfamiliar thing to experience, the majority say yes. Sometimes these few moments have the most profound effect on the person as they are brought face to face with the possibility that there is a God somewhere who cares for them.

It is not often you get direct feedback. Recently having just seen and prayed with a lady who had pneumonia, a nurse came up to me hurriedly and asked what I had said to the lady. I told her, thinking I had done something wrong. The nurse then told me that the lady had been very agitated all morning and they had had difficulty with her, but now she was calm and compliant.

After my visit I check out at the office. I record what I cover in broad terms, so that another Chaplain later in the week will know what has already gone on. It keeps my feet on the ground and I would recommend it to everyone, despite its challenge in not quite knowing what one is going to meet next."

If you have a story or interesting perspective on mental health care and related issues that you'd like us to consider for publication, why not drop us a line at awp.communications@nhs.net


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