Guest blog post: Why being a Volunteer is Important in healthcare?

And how to keep them happy and feeling valued.

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Hi, My name is Mark Hudson, You probably have no idea who I am, that’s ok I’d be surprised if you did. Olivia and I met in August of 2018 at an ICU steps Edinburgh event, Creativity in ICU recovery, it was my first speaking event. I was nervous as talking about what happened to me in ICU is not easy, it is bearing my soul, several people spoke at me. Note that AT me, an ex ICU consultant who basically telling me about what a patient goes through in recovery, arrogant right? Other spoke at me telling me why they where great, Dr Ramsay introduced herself but was very busy so during the event didn’t have the time to talk (which is fine there was a lot going on). So, who was the first person who actually spoke to me? Who treated me like a person, a person whose view was important? Olivia. I don’t have many friend but I make them fast, with me its all in or all out, I don’t have any middle ground. My health issues and nearly dying in ICU made some things clear to me, life is short and as such you should surround yourself with good people. I chose to surround myself with great people like Olivia.

I have only met Olivia one other time in the real world but I am happy to call her one of my best friends. Why I hear you asking? Because we have fought in the trenches of Critical Illness, we have battled ICU Delirium, we have had to deal with life long health issues and we have both made it through mostly intact. Ok so now to get to the point of the blog, I hear you saying thank god, a bit rude but that ok I forgive you 😉

I was given an opportunity to Volunteer after I completed my ICU rehabilitation clinic I was invited to become the peer support volunteer for the clinic it was a big deal to me as it was an opportunity to pay back for the people who saved my life and help to make those who came after me in ICU’s lives a bit better. A chance to make a real difference in peoples lives, this is the main reason why people volunteer in these types of positions. However, it is very easy to take them for granted, after all they are not paid so they are valued as, less right? Well no because you are being paid to do your job, they are giving up their time and experience. So how do you avoid this pothole, well you do somethings my team did with me, you listen to their input taking it seriously and weighting as equal to the other team members or greater depending on the subject. Also inviting them to any Quality improvement meetings you have and treat them like one of the team as they are not a guest they are very much in your team. Other things like remunerating for their travel is important too as why should they be out of pocket for helping you out.

I have now started doing what I call freelance volunteering inside my health board mainly on Delirium so far. This is where I am brought in to talk say at a conference or training session etc. Now these situations are trickier for the people who are bringing the Volunteers in because unlike my clinic experience, I am not part of the team. However, in this situation I am being brought in as an ‘Expert’ now this can be a problematic area as you are often viewed on as a free resource. No other expert would be looked at in that way, it is as if because you are giving your time up for nothing you lose position you become an almost inferior. This is the worst thing you can do to a volunteer because you will make them feel like a failure and not respected, which will make them much less likely to volunteer with you or anyone else for that matter. So, I hear you asking how to avoid this, its trickier, because there is not usually a pre-existing relationship it can be tricky. Here is my ‘guide’: if you are in a faraway or difficult to get to part of a building meet them at the front door; if there are other speakers or ‘important’ team members introduce them and say they have came to help you do x or have Volunteered to show us X it shows they are important; Introduce them before they speak and thank them when they are done in front of the group it shows their value to the group; and at very very least offer to pay any travel expenses because why should they pay to help you.

Ok so the serious stuff aside it boils down to is remember they are a human being put yourself in their shoes and see how you would want to be treated. Remember they owe you nothing, they do not need to help you, that is sometimes forgot. They do not need to give you their time, insights, wisdom or bear their soul to you. They are giving you a gift, its not yours to take or demand its theirs to give so remember that when you are working with volunteers.

Mark also writes his own blog which is well worth a read. Mark is also an avid poet writing some fantastic poems. I have been very fortunate and Mark has penned a few poems for me which I will post for others to enjoy too!!

Mark’s blog is: https://autoimmunedisorderjourney.blogspot.com

Twitter: @MarkThomHudson

May is asthma awareness month!!!

May is asthma awareness month. Asthma is a disease which is so misunderstood. Many will live with asthma quite happily and think ‘its just asthma’ but then there is the small portion of people who battle asthma everyday and just getting up in the morning is achievable because of a concoction of medication and then sadly there are those who live with a empty space in their family where a loved one has died as a result of asthma.

So this month my aim is to try and out something everyday which will show what you can do despite asthma, what asthma has stopped people doing, what asthma has caused, what we have learned from having asthma, the day in the life of someone with severe asthma, work and asthma, sport and asthma.

But for today I am going to start on a high and write about the good side of asthma, its not a great disease to have and has dictated most of my life but having said that if I didnt have asthma I would not have had the oppertunity to do some of the most amazing things which I am so proud of.

Just now my biggest honour really is to be part of the ‘Healthcare Hero’s’ Book. I received an email the other day titled ‘Getting our Hero’s Together’. I am hugely proud to be part of the Healthcare Hero’s but have difficulty thinking anything I have done is special. What I do is to try and benefit people but essentially as I have said before if I didnt do things I would curl up in a ball and become depressed about how much asthma has taken from me and what it has stopped me doing becoming a total recluse. To be in a book with some amazing people is a true honour. Just to be along side a man who engineered a device for his own heart so he didnt have t live a life on blood thinning drugs, or the amazing lady behind compassionate care who has sadly died but her husband is continuing her work. To read the stories in the book or online is eye opening just seeing what people will do. So tomorrow I am going to Manchester to meet up with the other Hero’s from the book and for me I will be celebrating World Asthma Day but also overcoming a really difficult time for me personally so by getting myself to Manchester will be a huge achievement.

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Having a piece of writing published in the British Medical Journal was also pretty awesome. What makes it more awesome is that I always struggled with writing throughout my school career and told I was lazy but it was not until I went to do my second degree of Nursing that it was discovered that I was dyslexic and pretty badly which meant I had a reader and scribe in exams and was given all this help to get me through my nursing. So maybe I would have done better than an E in English at school had I known I was dyslexic. I now have a purple cover when reading books and it makes life so much easier. Back then I never thought I wold ever be a published writer but I am. What is even greater is that it was a learning tool for Dr on how to treat an acute asthma attack and seeing this implemented in practice is awesome especially when I was in resus once and one of the Dr’s said they read this piece about the things asthmatics find helpful when having a severe attack. I was able to write to him on the paper and pen he offered me to say I wrote it. I was so chuffed that it has had an effect on some Drs practice.

My next thing which has helped me through the last few years is my involvement in Scotland Lacrosse. After moving from a field position to the goal (18years after last stepping in a goal) I never thought much of it but being able to play for the Scotland B team at Home Internationals was awesome but then after having to stop playing even in goal I was able to take on the position of Assistant Manager which I was kindly given the nickname AssMan (short for assistant manager) which I have decided to own. I am one for nicknames and never been called my real name except at work and research stuff so AssMan joins Tux, Olive, Ollie (of all spellings), Liv, Livi (again many spellings), Wivvers, Wheezer to name a few, I am sure there are more that I have forgotten (or intentionally forgotten). Being able to go to Florida with the Scotland team in the preparation for World Cup was amazing and probably once in a lifetime experience, but I will be able to see them in action at the World Cup as I will not be with the Scotland Team but will be joining the Technical Crew doing match statistics for the World Cup so will be front and central for most matches- although I will need a lot of concentration.

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But my proudest achievement is being part of the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research as a Patient and Public Involvement lead and helping facilitate SPEAK Asthma- the children and young peoples group. Having a role like this has given me a totally new perspective on research and opened my eyes to how much researching actually going on.  It has also given many other opportunities such as speaking at the Annual Scientific Meeting (and crying during my speech but at least I wasn’t the only one who cried!), giving a lecture to Masters students who are doing a Masters in Clinical Trials, I have been able to go to many different things at the Scottish Parliament and was invited to the British Government last year but sadly due to my asthma I was not able to. I have also spoken at events with GSK and learnt about new medications which are coming out and also now do work with Astra Zeneca for their Patient Centricity program. It is so awesome all the things I have had the chance to do because of the centre let alone all the things I do with them such as lay summary reviews, PhD application reviews, help PhD students, the list is endless and I love every minute of it even when not feeling 100% I still want to go to things as its such a great centre and has really given me my life back and given me something to do when I am not feeling great. It is putting a really big positive spin on a bit of a rubbish situation.

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I have things coming up in the near future which I am looking forward to such as the Usher Institute Showcase and being involved in things with the European Respiratory Society as well as getting emails from a variety of different researchers (not part of the centre but from all over the world) who have read this blog and want to get in touch.

I guess having things I am proud of really do keep me going when things are not so good. I was able to draw on these things when I was last in hospital and didnt think I was that unwell but was as my best friend thought I was drunk with the messages I was sending but the admission was really hard especially the 3rd time the ITU Drs came to see me and this was after being discharged from ICU but kept getting worse again and I really thought I didnt have the fight left in me to keep going and not let the attack get the better of me but thinking about all these things I am proud of makes the fight worthwhile- that and thinking of all the Scotland players as they do their insane strength and conditioning stuff- I guess asthma attacks are my version of strength and conditioning although an asthma attack burns and insane amount of calories as I found out from waring my FitBit during one attack!!!

But keep hold of the positive things in your life and these will keep you going and help you reach and achieve your goals no matter how big or small they are.

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(I got this bracelet from a really good friend who knows just how tough life is with rubbish lungs but this saying says it all!!)