Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Give A Little Happiness - Be A Childrens Hospital Volunteer!

Several times a week I travel into the city centre and depending on which bus I get I will often pass the Childrens Hospital in Crumlin. To us Dubliners it's also affectionately known as "Crumlin Hospital" or "Our Lady's". Opened in 1956 it's Ireland's largest paediatric hospital and because of its excellent specialist facilities many patient transfers from around the country take place every year.

Despite the wonderful nursing and medical care given to its youngsters the hospital still suffers greatly from a severe lack of funding. One incident that still angers me took place back in 2003 when a two year old girl died in the hospital because her heart surgery had to be postponed owing to a shortage of intensive care nurses. Several weeks previously twenty five beds were closed in order to remain within hospital budget, yet, around that time, close on five million Euros was available to build the Dublin Spire on O'Connell Street. That money would have been better spent on improving the conditions in that hospital which would ultimately have attracted the required vital nursing staff. Mmmm.

Back in 1998 I began my training as a Children In Hospital Ireland (CHI) volunteer. I chose to work on the infant ward, St. Peter's, firstly, because from the time I was eight years old until seventeen I babysat every infant in our avenue, I was sort of equivalent to a horse whisperer, always managing to subdue the fussiest of nippers. Secondly, as the nursing staff are not always immediately able to come to the aid of a crying baby, I dreaded the long term effect on those children whose cries were left unanswered. To them it would seem a form of abandonment, of not being worthy of love. If I could give just a few hours a week to cuddling as many babies as possible within that time span then I would feel I'd helped in some small way towards providing the emotional support these little ones needed.

So, over the course of six happy years I spent two, sometimes three hours, twice weekly, up on the infant ward, not only looking after the babies but also allowing parents head down to the canteen for a much needed coffee and time with their other children when necessary. Some of the less sick children I took for walks in their buggies down onto the other floors just for a change of scenery for them, what adventures we had!

During the last couple of years of my time there I was very privileged to have worked on a voluntary basis (again for a few hours a week as my children were home to lunch from college at 1.00pm) as a nurse's aid on St. John's ward, the Oncology Unit. People often asked me how could I work in such a sad environment but never at any time was there ever a sense of gloom, only one of hope along with lots of laughs. My duties included: making sure the trays of varying size syringes were stocked up as well as having a stock of assorted IV bags to hand; helping with the preparation of the High Dependency ward when a bone marrow transplant patient was due to arrive; taking kiddies in their wheelchairs to X-Ray, some of them right cheeky little devils which was always great to see; helping with serving dinners which was usually good fun.

Although life on St. John's was for the most part a joyous experience for me there was one young ten year old girl whose courage and determination to struggle on even in the final days of her short life brought me face to face with not only the sad fact that this child's life was slowly ebbing away but as a parent myself I tried to imagine the indescribable pain her parents must have been enduring. I knew in my heart I wasn't anywhere near to understanding it. On the day this lovely little girl passed away I was allowed visit her in the ICU that morning where she was, would you believe, watching a cartoon Video! When I was leaving her Mum came out with me into the corridor and we talked for a short while about her beautiful daughter. I went home that day all the more aware of how blessed I was as a mother than I had been when coming in.

After I had my own little stint in hospital with my coronary artery blockage and spent the time recuperating as indicated by my cardiologist I returned to my volunteer work in Crumlin hospital. Shortly afterwards I began my acting career which I'd longed for since I was twelve years old. I was very lucky and soon the work began to come my way but the down side was I could not do my hospital work as often as I'd have loved. Reluctantly, about six months later, after an awful lot of soul searching, I gave up my volunteer work, vowing I would return as soon as was possible. I did drop in from time to time but maybe some day I will actually go back there, if even for a few months.

Above image: Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin via www.cmrf.org
Bottom image: Spire of Dublin via Wiki



  1. You are so dedicated. I really admire you doing the volunteer work in the hospital. Furthermore, you brought sunshine to the children. It's really touching reading about the little girl who watched cartoon video and later passed away. How heartbreaking it was for her parents as we, too, could feel it.

    Loved this post.

  2. Thank you so much Balqis for that touching comment. Yes, I loved every minute I worked in the hospital, some days were more fulfilling than others especially when a parent just wanted me to be present, just to have someone to talk to. I'd like to return there sometime soon.

    Take care and Cheers!