Stories of an Ardgowan Hospice volunteer driver by John Wilson
Hello! I am John, and I have been a Hospice volunteer driver for seven years now. I hope this blog makes for an enjoyable read, makes you smile or encourages you to also become a Hospice volunteer driver! (Hopefully, it will do all three).
Before I tell you about volunteer driving, I thought it only fitting to let you know that, I am also a fully qualified Hospice Receptionist. Yes, I did a morning, an afternoon and an evening stint so that I might be considered suitable to meet and greet in IPU (inpatient unit). I much enjoyed my time at the front desk and, as would also happen in the years ahead, I had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people. However, I do remember there was more than a hint of sadness when I left Reception…no more morning coffee and I had smelled and savoured the last of Bridget’s delicious scones!
The front desk had been my introduction to the life of The Hospice. Here I discovered its very essence…what actually happened, the workings and the ways of this remarkable charity. Although my time on reception was brief, I was there for just a few weeks, I learned a great deal and was very much inspired by all that was going on around me. Gradually, I came to understand that every single person, staff and volunteers alike, had but one sole purpose, one solitary aim…how do we best help any family that suddenly, has come face to face with a life-limiting illness? All at once, this family is faced with a very different way of life, their whole world is, completely and cruelly, turned upside down. Apprehension, anxiety, uncertainty and fear, these unfamiliar and unwelcome emotions were now part of daily life and they would have to learn to adapt and adjust. Easier said than done, they would need help, passionate care and support, as they tried to maintain a good quality of life while, at the same time, trying hard to make every moment matter.
Many people view Ardgowan Hospice as a sanctuary, a place of peace, comfort and support, for those who are approaching life’s end. Yes, of course, it fulfils that purpose, but it offers so much more. A life may be limited by illness but that very same life still deserves to be lived to the full. Every day of that life is meaningful, every minute is precious, for family, for friends and, most of all, for the person who is ill.
I left the reception and signed up as a Hospice volunteer driver about seven years ago now, becoming one of those cheery, chirpy, souls who flit in and out of IPU (inpatient unit), The Access Centre and various hospitals within NHSGGC…a jolly bunch. “Jolly,” I hear you say, he must be mad, given that we are directly involved with meeting and helping people who have been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness.
Thankfully, we, the happy band of volunteers, are not at the sharp end of the care and treatment of patients, and this, I believe, affords us a little latitude, a greater licence for levity and allows us to play a small, but not insignificant, part in keeping spirits up. As a volunteer, I don’t view myself as simply a taxi driver. I like to think I offer a little bit more…agreeable company, cheerful conversation and, perhaps, even a little support. I know it’s not a lot, yet, I hope that I might help allay some concerns and perhaps even brighten someone’s day. When you spend a few hours a week, sometimes for a good number of weeks with
someone, who had been a complete stranger, he or she very quickly becomes a good friend. I have made so many new friends and enjoyed so much conversation and banter on our journeys together (a journey which many of them would not have been able to make without this important service!). Volunteer driving is a pleasure and a privilege and there is no doubt that it has enriched my life. New friendships combined with daily jaunts up and down the M8, help to create a rapport which, is then fuelled and energised by conversation. These conversations cover every topic under the sun and they have proved to be a fertile breeding ground for travellers’ tales.
Here are just a few examples…
The Beast from the East
The Met Office had issued a rare, red, snow warning across central Scotland. Power cuts hit
thousands of homes and military assistance was deployed. Glasgow Airport was closed and
there was widespread travel disruption…but not at Ardgowan Hospice!
It was a Wednesday afternoon, when we had one of the heaviest snowfalls. I had a pick-up
at 13:30 and set off, heading over The Erskine Bridge. We had a slight issue on an incline
just beyond Anniesland Cross when I had to stop at traffic lights. There was a little bit of
slipping and sliding, but no real problem.
I sat in the Café at the Beatson and watched the snow tumble and accumulate. When it was
time to leave I decided that The Clyde Tunnel and the Motorway would be a better option,
rather than the A82. I reckoned that the Motorway would be clearer… big mistake…the M8
was gridlocked following an accident at the airport. A trip to the Beatson normally takes
about forty-five minutes. That afternoon the journey home took three and a half hours, and it
was the one and only occasion when I began to wonder if I might have to spend tonight in
my car. However, my impatience and my discomfort were nothing compared to that of my
two gentlemen passengers, both of whom had to drink a generous amount of water before
their treatment. As we set off from the Beatson we all crossed our fingers, it was still snowing
and who knew what lay ahead. Two hours later, as we remained stationary, under the
flight path at Glasgow Airport, believe me when I tell you, it was not just fingers that were
crossed. My companions’ journey home was, to put it mildly, grim but their discomfiture was
remedied, much to their,” relief ”…en route!
The Parking Ticket
Parking at The Beatson, indeed at any Greater Glasgow Hospital is always a bit of a lottery.
Perhaps not altogether true because you do, at least, have a small chance of winning The
One day I was driving an elderly lady from Port Glasgow and I was given a parking ticket.
As we were driving away I spotted a parking attendant so, I stopped my car, lowered the
window and said, very politely,
“ Excuse me I have been given a parking ticket.” He looked me straight in the eye and said,
and I quote,
I couldn’t believe it, I just exploded with laughter, thinking, what an absolutely brilliant and
spontaneous reply. Happily, he took the ticket and tore it up, but not before my elderly
accomplice had given him a piece of her mind. I firmly believe that, had he been at her side
of the car she would have had lamped him !
Blasts from the Past
During the years that I have been driving I have met quite a few people who were related to,
or perhaps had known – old friends, some old neighbours and old acquaintances of mine.
However, there have been only three occasions when I have driven people that I knew
myself. One was an old Boys’ Brigade Captain. I picked him up in Gourock, and obviously I
had been given his name. However, I didn’t recognise him, nor he me, and it wasn’t until we
had chatted for a few miles, that the penny dropped. It would have been easily sixty years
since we last met…perhaps time does change us?
The second old friend had been a classmate. I thought I recognised the name and I knew it
was him whenever I saw him. He also recognised me and I don’t think that there was a
single pause in the conversation between Greenock and Glasgow. Not so long since I last
saw him…only fifty five years!
The third was also an old classmate. Coincidentally, all three of us had all been on a school
cruise in 1966 on the SS Nevasa. We visited Kristiansand in Norway, Copenhagen and
Helsinki. It was a wonderful adventure, as none of us had ever been abroad. We had a great
time. We visited different countries, saw many new sights and we had the time of our lives
on board the ship. However, the highlight of the cruise, by a nautical mile, and much to the
bewilderment and dismay of the staff who were supervising us, had to be,
“Ice-Cream a la Scandinavia.”
Ice-cream, the highlight – are you having a laugh?
Definitely, no joke…I would go as far as saying it was invigorating, if not intoxicating!
Unbeknown to us, and, of course, our innocent and unenlightened teachers, the little carts
used by the ice-cream vendors had two compartments. One contained ice-cream and the
other was filled with bottles of Carlsberg !
Simply the best, “ice-cream” …ever!
Although, I still don’t understand how the teachers ever, “wised up” … hic!
I have always enjoyed singing…Beatles, Beethoven and even Tartan Army choruses on the
terraces at Hampden. One day, I was taking a lady to the Beatson. We were chatting abot
this and that when I happened to mention that one of my hobbies was singing. That was just
as we were passing Langbank, she then had me singing all the way to the Beatson and all
the way back. The next time I drove her she had very kindly compiled a CD of her favourite
songs and gave this to me. I drove her a few more times and each time we would have a
sing song. We even played, “Name that Tune,” on Spotify.
I think that I have said quite enough; “too much,” I hear you cry. If you have read thus far I commend your fortitude and your perseverance! Although, if even one of you decides to become a Hospice volunteer driver then my scribbling has not been in vain.