"If I could, I would..."
Michele joined St John's hospice as a volunteer hairdresser in August 2012. Since then, her involvement with St John's has become so much more. Michele has been involved in the development of a personalised service on offer to the patients, raised funds for the ward, and become very much part of life at St John's.
It was 9 years ago that Michele first visited St John's, when her friend Betty came for end-of-life care. Michele spent 2 weeks visiting Betty before she was moved to a specialist hospital for her final days. In 2012, Michele found that she had a little spare time and wanted to volunteer. Michele knew one of St John's ward sisters, Sarah, and with her previous experience of the care offered, she decided to see whether her hairdressing skills could be put to use for patients wanting a little pampering during their time at the hospice.
Getting to know patients
Michele and voluntary services coordinator, Betheney, quickly realised the best way to tell patients of her hairdressing service was to visit them personally, so Michele joined the team of hospitality volunteers who provide patients with refreshments. On offering a cup of tea, Michele found she was able to speak individually to all the patients and ask them if they would like a hairdresser. Michele doesn't just do haircuts, she straightens and styles, helping people feel a little more comfortable or just a little more like themselves. She has also been asked to shave patients heads after the onset of hair loss.
Michele soon found that people were at ease and opening up to her, as many of us do with our hairdressers. Initially this was a personal battle for Michele. "I wanted to get close to the patients, spend time with them and see what help was needed, but at first I wondered how the patients coped with their illnesses and prognosis", she said. With one-to-one support and training courses from the family support team and education team, Michele developed the confidence she needed to continue with her volunteering.
Adding a personal touch
Betheney and Michele have used the insight gained from spending time with patients to help with the introduction of a service offering that little extra something. Michele has often popped out to pick up a card or newspaper at the request of a patient and regularly comes in to do an extra haircut at short notice. She is also able to pass on requests that other volunteers are able to help fulfil.
Michele has a unique relationship with the patients - she isn't medical staff or family - and this can enable a patient to make requests or talk about things that they otherwise wouldn't. When asked why this 'If I could, I would…' service was so important to her, Michele said: "It’s about putting a smile on someone's face, even for just a few minutes. Patients are often surprised by the service we are able to offer. All hospices should be doing it, it really is so important."
Michele doesn't charge for her hairdressing, but her clients at St John's often want to make a donation. With the £500 raised so far, Michele has bought clocks for the patients' rooms, new beakers and glasses for the ward, and given the rest to the fundraising team.
When talking about herself, Michele says "I am only a volunteer"', but here at Sue Ryder, we don’t believe there is any such thing as "only" a volunteer. Michele's individual achievements, along with the support of the team at St John's, provides an environment where patients can continue to live as full and normal a life as possible, for as long as possible. Very small actions can bring about big results in just one day.
Michele said: "I really wanted to make a difference, and if things need doing, then I just want to help to do it. St John's doesn't feel like a place where people come to die, it's full of compassion and people that really care. More people should get involved as you really don’t realise until you do just what an amazing place this is."
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