Former Patient Brings Comfort to Patients in Critical Care

Posted on Tue, 28/05/2019 by Mel Ainsley

Three and a half years ago, Mel Ainsley was fighting for his life in critical care after contracting meningococcal septicaemia.

From leading a fit and active life – going to the gym, taking part in the Great North Run and touring the country on his motorbike – he woke up in the critical care department at QE Gateshead after a week in a coma and found just a few simple steps felt like “climbing Mount Everest.”

Now, the 75-year-old retired electrical engineer from Rowlands Gill is back at the QE as a volunteer - his way of saying thank you to the staff who cared for him and helping to give hope and comfort to other patients and their families.

Here he tells his story:

"I will never forget what the staff in the hospital did for me. Without their care I would not be here today and I wanted to find a way of giving something back. I hope that through volunteering I can do what I can in my own little way.”

"I’d been at the gym in the morning and came back home and told my wife, Pat, that I was going for a lie-down. But I never made it to bed and collapsed in the corridor.

The next thing I remember was waking up in hospital a week later. I’d been sedated after catching meningococcal septicaemia, which had caused my organs to fail. I still don’t know how I got it.

It had been a frightening time for my family and they had been worried that I wasn’t going to make it. But they told me how the care that I had received had been wonderful.

I remember very little about those first few days after I came round. But I have a diary that the team in critical care gave me, which helps me to piece everything together.

It was hard to come to terms with how weak I was. I had always been very active – road cycling, doing the Great North Run, going to the gym and touring the country on my motorbike. Now I couldn’t stand and taking just a few steps out of bed was like climbing Mount Everest.

As I started to recover, I was moved to Ward 4, where my rehabilitation continued until I was discharged home.

After leaving hospital, I joined the local patient support group for ex-patients and relatives who have experienced critical illness – ‘ICUsteps Gateshead’ which stands for Intensive Care Unit Support Team for Ex-Patients. I found it helpful to meet people who had been through similar experiences to me but were also at different stages of recovery.

I then thought that patients and their families might find it comforting to have someone to talk to whilst they were in the critical care department who had been through a similar situation and so I asked about volunteering.

I come in two days a week between 10am and 2pm and just have a chat with people if they want to talk and a couple of cups of coffee. Sometimes it feels like I am really not doing anything worthwhile – while all the staff are busy saving people’s lives. But, I remember when I was in hospital that I could get lonely and I would have liked to have someone to just sit and chat to about hobbies or life outside of hospital.

I will never forget what the staff in the hospital did for me. Without their care I would not be here today and I wanted to find a way of giving something back. I hope that through volunteering I can do what I can in my own little way.”

“Mel is already making a big difference to patients, families and staff." 

Susie Lawley works as a specialist nurse for critical care rehabilitation and was one of the team who helped Mel during his recovery.

As part of her role, Susie aims to make critical care a less frightening place for patients and their families.  The critical care team are trying to introduce as much of the outside world as possible – they have implemented open visiting so relatives aren’t constrained by visiting times and can spend more time with their loved ones, the staff make photo diaries that help patients come to terms with their traumatic experiences, they have recently introduced monthly live music sessions and hope in the future to develop some therapeutic garden space and utilise pet therapy.

She said: “Mel is already making a big difference to patients, families and staff. Finding yourself or a loved one in critical care is a frightening experience. There are lots of machines and it can be very clinical and so we want to bring the human touch to the ward as much as we can and Mel is doing exactly that.”

To find out more about volunteering at Gateshead NHS Foundation Trust visit Volunteering

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