Four years ago, Jean Gordon was unexpectedly admitted to the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) to undergo heart surgery. She didn’t have any toiletries or supplies for basic needs during her stay. Through this experience, she saw first-hand the value and importance of an item such as a toothbrush or a comb for the comfort and well-being of patients – particularly those who are admitted unexpectedly.
Several years later, Jean became a volunteer with the Volunteer Services program at the MUHC which circulates a cart stocked with oral hygiene products and other such necessities like hand cream and reading glasses to patients at the hospital. When asked what inspired her to become a volunteer, Gordon says, “I have knowledge of having been a patient. I have been cared for at the Royal Victoria Hospital since I first arrived in Canada. It’s a pleasure to give back… it’s a little thing that helps me make a difference.”
Funded in part by the generosity of MUHC Foundation donors, these Comfort Carts are stocked with items that patients need during their stay at the hospital. The cart circulates once or twice a day for two to three hours at a time. It services all of the MUHC’s in-patient units across four floors and is supported by a dedicated team of up to 20 volunteers.
“Among the most important items are toothpaste and toothbrushes, lip balm, hand lotion, deodorant, Vaseline, shaving cream and reading glasses. These items seem like small things but are very important for the patient experience,” says Marylou Boria, Administrative Assistant at Volunteer Services.
Volunteers even take special requests. The Nurse Managers of each floor can identify specific patients, particularly the vulnerable ones without large support networks who are in need of essentials. “A lot of patients don’t have family or friends visiting – it is the story of many patients – so we are able to make their stay comfortable,” she reflects
One of the most rewarding aspects of the program are the positive reactions from volunteers and the patients after being serviced by a Comfort Cart. The carts are also a great ice breaker when volunteers enter a patient room. Patients are curious about what is in the cart and it provides an opportunity to open deeper communication between volunteers and patients, many of whom feel lonely during their stay.
Gordon says that patients are impressed by the service and satisfaction provided by the comfort carts. There are days where she sees many patients and others when she has a deep conversation with a single patient. She encourages others to volunteer because, “…it is a two way relationship. It gives me back as much as I give.”