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How I became a GUCH volunteer

By Pauline Rose

My name is Pauline and I have an unrepaired VSD and Pulmonary Hypertension (Eisenmenger Syndrome). This was not diagnosed until I was 11 years old, by which time it was far too late to close the hole in my heart, as my body had adapted and I had equal pressures in both sides of my heart and repairing the hole would cause more problems than it would fix. In my childhood I used to have yearly check-ups. But as an adult I seemed to get lost in the system and just ended up having the occasional visit to the local hospital.

On a visit to the doctor I was told that the government were changing things and people with complicated conditions were far better off going to a specialist hospital at least once. I agreed, and an appointment was made for me at the Manchester Royal Infirmary Heart Centre.

There I met Dr Mahadavan and Linda Griffiths, my specialist nurse. I felt I had made the right decision, I also felt secure in the knowledge that I had at last come to the right place. Everyone there is extremely kind and caring.

I was admitted last February for a couple of days prior to going on to Bosentan tablets. As I was leaving the hospital I was given a goody bag by Linda. There were boxes to post my monthly blood test results. Along with all of the necessary practical items there was also included a GUCH magazine.

I read through this magazine and it hit me that there were other people out there with the same or similar problems to me. When I was younger there were times when I would have loved some support and someone to talk to who understood my problems.

My Mum had just died and I needed something new in my life. I was worried that I had no experience but I decided to volunteer my services anyway. I rang up the GUCH helpline and asked for an application form. This I duly filled in and posted off. It took about 3 months for this to be processed as you have to have a CRB check. The wait was over; I was accepted as a volunteer. I decided to go on the telephone helpline, and was asked if I would attend a one day course.

The telephone helpline course lasted from 10am to 4pm. There were about 12 of us who attended, and they were all from different charities. It was a very enjoyable day, with lots of role playing. I learned a lot from the day. Right from the start we were given lots of useful and informative hints and information.

First we were advised to have a pre-determined phrase with which to answer the phone, i.e: "Good morning/afternoon, GUCH helpline". Also when we are sitting eagerly awaiting our first call, not to pounce the instant the phone rings as this can be intimidating and startle callers, it is best to wait until the phone rings a couple of times.

Confidentiality is very important as was stressed on the training course. I have a small computer room which I use for calls. This means that if I have any visitors in the house I have somewhere private and quite to go to take the calls. Also, calls are never discussed with anyone, with the exception of my manager at GUCH.

We learned to use active listening skills on the course, paying attention to non verbal clues: the manner in which something is said or even the silences. You have to stay calm and focus on the person and not the problem.

We learned to use open questions and to reflect back on what has been said, this clarifies the situation and also shows that you have been listening.

Due to the training day I felt a lot more confident in my own ability to answer calls and deal with the issues that a call may bring. I also feel that I can signpost calls correctly to the correct person or give the information that is required.

The calls we receive range from travel queries to lifestyle issues, which vary greatly from person to person. We have calls requesting leaflets for personal use and also from hospitals and health workers. Also people ring just needing to talk to someone who understands their problems. Listening can be just as important as talking.

The day was not all intense work. We had tea/coffee and biscuits mid-morning, followed by a wonderful cooked lunch, which enabled us to have an informal chat and get to know something about each other and our individual charities. I benefited greatly from the day and was pleased that I attended.

Next on my list I had to meet Victoria for a coffee and a talk through GUCH`s personal helpline needs. The information I received from her was in depth and specific to GUCH PA, as opposed to the general helpline training received at the earlier training day. I was nervous but I need not have worried as Victoria made me feel at ease.

I am now a volunteer on the helpline and enjoying every minute of it.

I am happy that it was the right thing for me to do. I enjoy that I am able – in any small way – to help other patients. I like the regular commitment and routine it gives me, but I also like the unpredictability of what the calls will be for. On a personal note, I feel more involved in my own choices now, and I am more informed about what choices available, thanks to GUCH. I feel stronger knowing that I am not alone, and that, thanks to the GUCH Telephone Helpline, other patients, their friends and families, are not alone either.

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