With the end of 2014 fast approaching, it is a good opportunity to spend some time contemplating on the past year events and the lessons we may have learnt, whether good or bad.

It is also a great time for reflection and to be grateful for what we have in our lives and think about the ways we can help contribute to someone else, who may need our help, in the new year ahead.

With this in mind, our Managing Director, Allison, decided to spend some time volunteering at a local hospital in the UAE. We caught up with her to determine what led to her decision to volunteer and what lessons, if any, she had learnt from her experience.

Allison, why did you decide to volunteer?

I have, like most people, donated to various charities over the years, either by giving money or sponsoring others who were participating in sporting events. Cash can make a huge difference to a person’s life, but I felt that I had not contributed any personal effort in doing so. I always enjoy helping others and I decided I wanted to give my actual time and energy to someone, who may immediately need it.

I set myself the goal, to make time and volunteer.

What is the nature of your volunteer work?

There are several voluntary organisations in the United Arab Emirates. I chose to participate in a volunteer programme at a local hospital. After an interview and full screening process, you can select from a number of different areas of the hospital to work in; administration department, working with patients, and coincidentally, you can also volunteer in the quality department!

I opted for direct contact with patients and started helping out, twice a week working with patients in the elderly ward and children’s ward.

What were your responsibilities?

My role was to talk to the patients and comfort them, if needed. Assisting nurses with dressing changing and basic non medical duties. I also accompanied patients to their scan or operation and provide a little entertainment, if needed.

Was it easy to make the transition from a construction environment to medical?

Orientating yourself to hospital work, after construction, is slightly daunting. I had a few mishaps and awkward moments along the way – which I put down to “first day nerves”.

I remember talking to a distressed patient on my first shift. I suggested that it was probably good if they have something to eat, which might make them feel a little better as they were very upset. Their meal had already been served at their bedside and was getting cold.

This is where the entertainment started!… I tried to move the bed so the head end was seated in the upright position. I think I had more or less pressed all the buttons on the control panel. The first moved the whole bed up, the next the leg end went up. It was a nightmare, I felt like I was acting in a scene in a comedy. Luckily there were no video smart phones around.

This was followed with the patient asking me to help assist with putting their arm back in their sling. Despite at the age of 7 or 8 dressing up and pretending to be a nurse and preparing slings and bandages for my whole family – this just wasn’t the same. I was now confronted with a real case on a post op patient!. Luckily the patient kindly directed me on how to achieve it and we managed to get it back on correctly without extra injury.

Despite the mishaps, after their dinner, the patient was chatting and laughing which, even if it was at my expense, this was the aim.

What were some of the difficulties you experienced as a volunteer?.

Obviously some of the patients have very complicated and serious medical conditions or had suffered a trauma of some kind. It was extremely difficult to hear their stories and how they came to be admitted in to the hospital. I remember returning home feeling totally overwhelmed and breaking down in tears after my first shift.

I wouldn’t say that I would be accustomed to this, but having increased exposure to these situations, it does become easier to focus on the positive contribution and comforting or entertainment measures you can utilize, rather than focusing on their injuries or problems.

Were there any aspects that surprised you?

Yes, I was astounded by the random acts of kindness from patients in the hospital. A patient, even though was critically ill and had been through a terrible time – offered to share his tea and his meal, whilst we chatted.

Another disabled patient in a wheelchair, which I hadn’t realised, had gone through the ward to get a chair for me. He has also introduced me to all the patients and taught me a little Arabic so that I can make basic introductions to any patients who do not speak English.

What did you learn from the experience?

I found the experience a very humbling and nourishing experience.

I have learnt to be grateful for my health and all the opportunities I have surrounding me. We sometimes take our health for granted and get embroiled in the day to day dramas of life, which at the time seem pressing and sometimes our reaction to them is rather dramatic. Without health our material objects and petty disagreements become nugatory.

I have learnt to appreciate how valuable my time is and also how valuable it is to someone else. On occasions I take time for granted and waste it on inane activities, but time is precious and there is no infinite supply of time or health.

Doctors and nurses in the medical field should be admired for their amazing work. I was exposed to these medical conditions for a short time each week, but staff have to contend with these issues every day. They have to constantly learn, evolve and respond to the ever changing medical challenges that are presented to them. I witnessed the lengths they will go to, to maintain a person’s health and well-being

Do you have any advice to those thinking about volunteer work?

Do it!, do it!, do it! Even if you have a few only a few hours to spare each week, this could make such a difference to both yourself and another person.

An elderly patients stated “having the volunteers coming to visit us, gives us hope! ….” This reaffirms the importance of my volunteer work. After all, you never know if one day it could be you walking in their shoes.

A young man who is paralyzed and alone in his room, was utilizing his time to learn English from a dictionary. I  started teaching him English during my visits. This patient, even in his predicament is not giving up hope and continues to push himself forward to improve and grow. This could be a lesson to us all and I find very inspiring.

Always show gratitude and be grateful for your health and the life that you have.

“money can’t bring happiness”.. but volunteering seems to…