The all-seeing hospital porter
As a hospital porter, I have immense pride in what I do, and I wholeheartedly believe that I make a small but important difference to patients’ experience where I come in contact with them on a daily basis - whether I am guiding them to the right clinic or ward or having a chat with them when I am asked to take them to a procedure, or transfer them to another ward.
I have been portering for nearly nine years in the same hospital trust, and have worked in different settings including A&E, AMU, X-ray, outpatient, pharmacy, storeman for domestic department or help desk operative. I am currently with the pathology department – one of the most enjoyable postings I’ve had to date. I love the fact that in the space of one hour I could be changing clinical waste and tidying the store, or transporting a patient, doing the specimen round, delivering vital blood products to a ward, attending a meeting with doctors organising our next Schwartz rounds… (this is a meeting where staff from all discipline get together in a safe space for an hour to discuss the emotional impact of care).
I have become a good listener (my wife will disagree!) since I became a porter because I force myself to give time and attention to patients, so they can tell me about themselves and their thoughts about the care we provide for them. Do you find it surprising that a patient will divulge all sorts of things about their lives, or about their anxiety over their illness, to a porter? Don’t be - because this porter is all ears! I think it’s a human urge to validate our existence to anyone that will listen, particularly when we’re anxious and/or feeling physically low.
I will admit that I was not always like this. I used to prioritise being efficient and fast, i.e. how quick can I get you there. But an experience with a patient that was being cared for at an assessment unit in my second year of portering left a lasting impression on me. I had an opportunity to take the patient to several scans over a two to three day period. There was the simple greeting, asking how they were coping and general chit chat. Weeks passed, and I assumed the patient had been discharged and was on the mend, but then I met their relative who told me that the patient had passed away. I was told that the patient had mentioned me to their family, talking about how they had enjoyed and derived comfort from our chats. The comment knocked me out! Here I was thinking that my effort had gone unnoticed - that how I conducted myself outside the general efficiency required of me, was unimportant compared to the medical management of the person. This small recognition has had a major impact not only on my professional life, but also my personal one. I’m more attentive to my family’s, patients’ and colleagues’ needs and I will always look for opportunities to be supportive in their lives, whether it means smiling and greeting everyone that I come across, noting mentally what hobbies and interests outside of hospital they have, the latest major event that is happening in their life e.g. birthdays, wedding, holiday.
I do find mortuary tasks difficult sometimes ,especially if it involves children or newborns - more so since becoming a father five years ago. Lots of questions go through my head like: was it expected or sudden? If it was expected, was it dignified? Did they get to say goodbye to their loved ones? But it also strengthens my resolve, that I will do my utmost to be as caring and helpful as I can while patients are in hospital.
There is also the beneficial healthy side to all this walking around, where I manage, on average, 10 miles a day. But beware if you think you'll find a sympathetic welcome home from your loved one after a long shift when all you want to do is crash on the sofa! I still get called a lazy you-know-what!
And so I leave you with the immortal words of a fellow general porter who was interviewed about his experience of the job: "If you wanna know anything, ask a porter!"