I'm a 22-year-old Master’s student at the University of Southampton. In my free time, I’m heavily involved in the university’s First Aid Society, which is partnered with St John Ambulance as a student volunteering unit. I’m usually out and about providing first aid cover at public events.
But, since the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK, St John Ambulance has supported the NHS by providing trained volunteers to work in hospitals up and down the country.
"When the call went out for St John volunteers to support the NHS I did it without hesitation."
Like hundreds of others, I signed up to help in any way I could. I was deployed to the NHS Nightingale hospital in London, arriving there on the 30th of March to complete two days of essential training.
I spent the whole of April at Nightingale, initially providing first aid cover to the contractors and staff on site, and then helping the medical staff on the wards as a clinical support worker.
I must admit at first, I was a little apprehensive about helping out on the wards. I’d never worked in a hospital environment before. I knew the patients would be very unwell, however, the induction session from the NHS calmed my nerves. Our roles would cover watching patients, helping to move them into a more comfortable position in bed, taking basic observations and, more importantly, talking to them.
There was constant beeping from all the machines, the PPE was strange to wear, and you could tell the patients were not very well at all. It was nothing like I could have imagined.
One thing that amazed me was the sheer variety of skillsets on the ward: radiographers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists to name just a few. All the staff were absolutely lovely and prepared to answer any and all of my questions.
On the wards, I enjoyed talking to the patients and making them smile. They all had an information sheet telling us about them and their families. Little notes and messages from their families would be passed on and then attached to their observation boards.
"The memory that sticks with me the most is first time I cried on the ward."
A lot of patients had lost the ability to mobilise. I spent a lot of time with one man who was determined to sit up in bed. Eventually, he managed to get himself up.
Afterwards he pulled me close - he was crying so much - and looked me in the eyes and thanked me. He blew me a kiss and said how much he loved me: “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.”
Everyone is calling me brave, but I really don’t think I am. I feel privileged to have had the skills and opportunity to help - but I certainly wouldn’t call myself brave - I was just doing my bit. That being said, the messages of support I received really meant a lot. When I was tired, my feet hurt and my face was covered in lines from the masks, seeing the main corridor decorated with pictures and letters from children really made me smile.
The whole experience has taught me a lot. Before this I was questioning if I would retrain as a healthcare professional, but now I’m certain that this is what I want to do. Whilst I am in no hurry to return to Nightingale, if I were needed, I would go back in a heartbeat.