Yusuf Yousuf is a general porter at North Middlesex University Hospital. He tweets @yusuf_yousuf
When I was asked to write about my experience of being porter in a large acute hospital, the first thought that came to my mind was pride.
I have immense pride in what I do, and I whole-heartily believe that I make small differences to patients’ experiences whenever i come into contact with them on a daily basis during my routine travel across the site, whether it’s 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 9 years in the same hospital trust, and have worked in different settings including A&E, AMU, X-ray, outpatient, pharmacy, store man for domestic department, help desk operative, and I am currently with the pathology department – it’s by far it is the best job I have ever done. I love the fact that one hour I could be changing clinical waste and tidying the store, and the next hour transporting a patient, doing the specimen round, delivering vital blood products to a ward, being in 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 and discuss the emotional impact of care).
I have also have become a good listener (my wife will disagree!) since I've started 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. Are you wondering why patients will divulge their stories about who they are outside the illness or the anxiety that goes along with them being in a foreign, strange environment to a porter? It simple really, I’m all ears. I think it’s a human urge that we all have to validate our existence to any one that will listen, and in my role I seem to be seen as an outsider to the rest of my clinical colleagues.
I will admit that I was not always like this, I used to prioritise being efficient and fast above all, i.e. how quick can you get there. But an experience with a patient that was being cared for at an assessment unit in my second year of portering left an ever lasting impression on me. I got an opportunity to take the patient to several scans over a 2/3 day period. The simple greeting, asking how they were coping, usual small chit chat. Weeks passed, and I assumed the patient was discharged and was on the mend, when I met the relative who told me that the patient passed away, I consoled them, and then they informed me that the patient mentioned me to their family, talking about my conduct and behaviour and that I always seemed open for a chat. This comment knocked me out! Here I was thinking that my effort was unnoticeable, unimportant and insignificant compared to the medics and management. This small comment 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 that's 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 5 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 best 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!
I’ll leave you with the immortal words of a fellow general porter who was interviewed about his experience: "If you wanna know anything, ask a porter!"