Words by Abi Scaife
Hospital appointments can be daunting - whether you’re having surgery, or even just going in to talk to a doctor.
Luckily, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has come up with a unique way to combat the surgery-scaries - handholders.
Now, these people don’t need to physically hold your hand to do the job - their role is just to sit in the room with you, and focus on you and your needs. While the doctors are taking care of your eye health, a handholder can make sure that you feel comfortable, and help with your nerves.
“It depends on usually the day or what kind of procedure they're having, even when it comes to like what would be shorter or smaller procedures,” says Sumaiya Sheikh, a handholding volunteer. There are a lot of patients that would like the extra support - they tend to be quite nervous.”
Sumaiya is a biomedical student at Anglia Ruskin University and originally began volunteering at Moorfields Eye Hospital for experience in medicine. As a handholder, she not only gets to see medicine being practised but gets experience interacting with patients and helping them through their appointments.
“As humans when we get nervous, we just want some sort of support,” explains Sumaiya. “When patients go into theatre, they're not allowed to have their family or friends come in.”
“If [they have] someone who's not a healthcare professional, but they know from outside they find that a little bit more helpful.”
Sumaiya and other handholders can sit with the patient, reassure them that everything is going well, and assuage any fears or anxiety they may have. They also have another important purpose - to be the one person in the room who is completely focused on the immediate well-being of the patient.
“I thought I would say a set amount of things, then go in and hold their hand and leave but you have to show a lot of sympathy towards the patients,” admits Sumaiya, who finds volunteering particularly useful for her future career. “Which I think is really important in healthcare. The fact that I can offer it in some way or other I find amazing.”
Not everyone needs the same kind of support - for some, physical contact may feel like too much, while others may want a hand to hold during a procedure. Sumaiya stresses how important it is to speak to the patients beforehand, to get a read on their wants and needs, and what kind of support is best for them.
“We go in [to the theatre] but we tend to talk to the patients outside more, which I think is just as important,” explains Sumaiya. “When you talk to the patients, you try to understand what kind of support they need, whether they're okay with verbal [support] or if they'd prefer [physical] contact which can be a little bit more helpful.”
For Sumaiya, her work as a volunteer handholder is giving her valuable experience for her future in healthcare.
‘It will look good on your CV’ is a phrase we’ve all heard a thousand times about volunteer work - mostly from well-meaning parents, let’s be honest - but it’s true here. For many wanting to go into healthcare, you don’t get the opportunity to work face-to-face with patients until you get there - but for Sumaiya she is able to learn these valuable skills early on.
“I really enjoy it. I get to see the procedures happening, which is really interesting to me,” admits Sumaiya. “It’'s also really interesting to see it from an outsider's point of view as well as someone who's working in the hospital environment.”
“It's kind of like giving back to the community. It's a very common phrase, but it's very useful.”
Sumaiya’s experience handholding at Moorfield’s Eye Hospital has given her a new perspective on healthcare - and she’s seen firsthand that what she does has helped people get the help they need.
“Even in non-procedure environments, I think it could be really helpful,” Sumaiya points out. “I know a lot of people that get really nervous being in a doctor's office or talking to more professional people who would like to have that sort of assistance, that sort of support. I think if this was nationwide, then it would be so much better.”
You can find out more about the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Trust by following this link to their website. If you’re interested in becoming a handholder, you can find out more by getting in touch with the Friends of Moorfields here.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
RNID. This is a national hearing loss charity that aims to make life fully inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus. Find out more here.
Royal College of Nursing Foundation. The RCN Foundation provides grants for hardship, education and research, to support and strengthen nursing and midwifery and to improve the health and wellbeing of the public. Find out more.
London’s Air Ambulance. This charity delivers medics to the scene of accidents all around London to provide life-saving surgery and transportation. Learn more here.