Caring companion in good times and bad

Published in Newcastle Herald (Monday, June 24, 2013)

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GRATITUDE, smiles and a friendly chat have motivated volunteer palliative care worker, Virginia Milne, to lend a supportive hand to patients in Maitland for the past eight years.

After her children left the nest and her husband died, Mrs Milne felt inclined to again care for others.

“Life was a bit empty just living for me,” she said.

“You just can’t live for yourself, well at least not happily.”

Mrs Milne had no experience in palliative care, but on seeing an advertisement for training with the organisation, Volunteers for Palliative Care Maitland, she signed up and completed her training course in 2005.

As part of the course volunteers are taught how to look after palliative care patients, including how to assist patients after a fall, feed them and talk to them in a dignified manner.

“We learnt not to ‘should’ people,” Mrs Milne said.

“In other words, we should never say to somebody, ‘You should do this or you should do that’ because it’s not up to us to say.”

Mrs Milne previously volunteered on the breakfast shift at local hospitals for two days a week, assisting and providing companionship to patients.

Breakfast time can be a lonely time for patients because they rarely have visitors, Mrs Milne said.

She would help patients with tasks ranging from feeding to opening cereal packets and toasting bread.

“But no matter what small thing you do for the patient, they’re so grateful,” she said.

“And all the nurses are so thankful for the help, it’s just a feel-good thing.”

Her work now involves transporting patients to and from medical appointments.

“Now that we [Volunteers for Palliative Care Maitland] have a vehicle, we can transport people to treatment, to chemo or radiotherapy and to doctor appointments, and that’s great too,” Mrs Milne said.

All care workers from Volunteers for Palliative Care participate in respite care work.

“It’s very full-on for carers of palliative patients,” Mrs Milne said.

Respite care involves heading to a patient’s home and caring for them, giving their carer the opportunity to have a break and complete the tasks they need to do, whether it be attending an appointment, shopping or just having some relaxing time to themselves.

Through her respite care work Mrs Milne has developed close relationships with the patients and their carers.

“Once they [the carer] accept you coming into their home, once they’ve experienced it, they think it’s wonderful,” she laughed.

“They know that they can safely go out and that their loved one is being looked after.

“The carers really need a break.”

Supporting people in the end stage of life is something Mrs Milne felt comfortable doing.

“Let’s face it. It’s all about death and dying,” she said.

“I think my spiritual beliefs help me deal with that sort of thing.”

The satisfaction volunteering provides for both parties is what makes it worth the while, Mrs Milne said.

“So much satisfaction comes out of helping people, but you also find you’re getting to know a whole lot of really nice people,” she said.

“Anybody who’s got the time, even just for a few hours a month, go out and volunteer.

“It’s all about people helping people – what could be nicer?”

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