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[Heart of Gold] “So how much can I do in five hours?”
15 April 2016

By Dominic Chia, Volunteer at HCA Day Hospice

5 hours. This is the amount of time that patients of HCA Hospice Care spend at the day hospice centre from the time they arrive till they leave. I have seen such programmes being conducted in passing, but have never actively helped out in one. What and how much can be achieved in 5 hours? Do the patients deem their time spent here as meaningful and/or enjoyable? These were some of the questions I asked myself as I made my way to the hospice on my first day of volunteering.

As I peered through the glass doors while signing in at the computer in front of the reception, I saw a group of people donned in pink uniforms huddled in a small office deep in discussion. I would later realise that these people were the pillars of the day hospice programme. Be it van transport, coordinating the day’s activities, transferring patients around the centre, serving food or assisting the doctor during clinic hours – they did it all and they did it well. I followed one of them up one of the four vans and away we went to pick up our group of patients. My job was to call these patients to give them advanced notice of when we were arriving, assist them up the van to their seat, and look after them so that the driver in front could concentrate on the roads.

Our first passenger was a nice Chinese lady, whom I spoke to briefly on the way to our next pick up point. She asked me about my beliefs and shared with me about her battle with cancer and how she has outlived her initial prognosis by 2 years. I then asked her about her daily routine and what she would usually do at home if there was no day hospice. She told me that other than attempting some minor household chores, the rest of the day would be spent sitting in front of a TV or lying in bed and “looking up at the sky”.

Shortly after, we arrived at our second destination. I assisted the cordial Malay lady up and in no time the two ladies were engaged in conversation using a mix of both their mother tongues. This is when I realised that the benefits of this programme had already started – even before we reached the centre. Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to decreased mental health and increased morbidity, and the programme naturally combats this through the interactions our patients have with their peers and volunteer groups throughout the day. As more patients came on-board, it was clear that these patients valued the company and solace they provided one another. One lady often buys ang ku kueh to share, while another occasionally wakes up early to cook her friend’s favourite porridge.

Upon arriving at HCA Day Hospice Centre, we were greeted at the front door by the cheerful volunteers from a group called PACE, a parent-led volunteer organisation under UWCSEA. We first helped our patients place their belongings on their comfortable geriatric chairs before bringing them for morning tea at the adjacent round tables. Once everyone had arrived and eaten, PACE begun conducting the activities planned for them. Usually, there are two activities per day by different volunteer groups, one before and one after lunch.

Examples of such activities include exercise, painting, karaoke, performances, games and even pet therapy. While not everyone enjoys every activity, this in fact reminded me of the diversity and individuality of these patients. Sometimes while facing an aging person with deteriorating health, it might be easy to see them as fragile and dependent, failing to realise that these are a respectable group of pioneers who took pride in their work and are even more proud of the children they raised.

Once the activities concluded, it was time for lunch, which was prepared in the kitchen by a group of volunteers who came early after their marketing. After the hearty meal, they had a short rest time before the second activity of the day. And before I knew it, 5 hours had passed. It was time for them to head home.

It is both heartening and uplifting to see so many individuals dedicating their time and expertise to make a difference in the lives of these patients. From full-time staff to volunteers, they give freely and they give with love from the heart. So how much can be done in 5 hours? I am answered when I think back to my first volunteer briefing, with the presentation ending off with the phrase “adding life to days”. I firmly believe that HCA Hospice Care has not only done that, but in doing so, added days to life too.

HCA Hospice Care has about 298 individual and 16 group volunteers in the last financial year supporting our services and making a difference to the lives of our beloved patients. Read about CAB (Clowns at Birthdays) in the same [Heart of Gold] series here, you may drop a word of encouragement to Dominic Chia at communications@hcahospicecare.org.sg.  Find out more about volunteering with HCA Hospice Care at https://www.hca.org.sg/Volunteers.aspx.