"In all of my 20 or so years of working as a porter, there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t wanted to go to work. That’s fulfilling in itself," Noel Cahill ~ Porter in Cork University Hospital.
Leaving is a positive. The most satisfying part of my job is bringing people to the front door. For anyone who leaves the hospital, it has to be a positive.
Occasionally, patients leaving give me presents. I rarely accept them. I ask them to say a prayer for me instead.
My week starts on a Thursday. A typical shift consists of working a month of nights, one week on, one week off, doing 12 hours. That’s followed by a month of days which consists of nine days on and two days off, and 12 days on with two days off.
A day shift consists of six hours and it’s 10 hours a day at weekends. There is porter cover on a 24-hour basis every day of the year. I do wards by day and I recently moved to the front desk by night. I have to deal with letters for appointments. I deal with about 200 letters every night. Covering the reception area means that I’m the first point of contact for most service users.
As a porter, I am the face of the HSE. The experience people will take away with them depends on the interaction they have, first with me, and then with the service they receive in the hospital.
Experience is everything
I come across distressed people. All I can use is my experience. Experience counts for everything within the porter service. There was an incident a couple of weeks ago when a family came in and said their loved one was being transferred by ambulance to the coronary care unit. But there was no ambulance outside and the family were waiting for quite a while. I rang the coronary care unit and was told that the person had gone to A&E. I told the family. An hour and a half later, one of the family came back and thanked me for directing them to A&E. He said that they made it in time.
They got the chance to say goodbye to their mum before she died in resuscitation. All I can do is guide people in the right direction in a situation like that. I have a brother who’s a senior porter in the hospital and I had an uncle who was a hospital mortician at CUH. My uncle gave me very sound advice and I live by it every time I have to deal with an RIP. He told me to treat every man as I would my father, treat every woman as I would my mother and every child as I would my own. These wise words have helped me through some difficult times.
The removal of HR [human remains] to the mortuary is one of the more difficult duties. On a week of nights or a week of days, you could have five or seven deaths. Sometimes, I’d go home in the evening, knowing a patient is going to die. I’d have seen them come through the oncology, radiotherapy or neurological wards. Or they could be elderly patients in the short-stay wards.
They have a sense that they’re passing on. If I’m off on a weekend, I’d look up rip.ie to see if patients have died. In this job, you’re facing death every day. Everyone is facing it; it could be me tomorrow. Because death has happened to me in my personal life, I know that life is precious but I can see how easily it can be taken away.
Dealing with the aged who’ve had a good life doesn’t make it any easier. But there’s a willingness to allow them go. But when you have someone in their 20s or 30s who have an illness such as cancer, it affects you. I have encountered kids’ deaths. When that happens, whatever is going on in my life has to be parked at the door. I become part of the family’s life. They may not listen to me because they’re clouded, but I might use one word that will stick with them.
My other duties include ensuring that there are adequate amounts of portable oxygen for use on the wards. There’s the delivery of medical and general supplies from the procurement department to the wards. I have to collect patient specimens and deliver them to the various laboratories.
There’s the collection of units of blood products from the labs for the oncology and radiotherapy departments. There’s the internal transfer of patients to various wards throughout the hospital. Also, there’s lunchtime cover of general intensive care and the paediatric department. There’s evening cover of X-ray, CT and radiotherapy departments. Because I’m carrying equipment and doing things such as pushing beds and going to the laboratory every 10 or 15 minutes, I’m probably walking miles every day. It gives me a level of fitness.
It’s all about human contact
On any given day, dealing with staff, patients and relatives, I can find myself fulfilling the role of counsellor, providing a listening ear, sympathising as well as empathising with others. Some patients have no visitors. If I can spend five minutes of my day speaking to these people, I might be the only person apart from the nurses and the consultants who they speak to. I could be talking about football and the news. It builds rapport and the patients will tell you about their lives. Back when I worked in St Finbarr’s Hospital, I was reported once for spending too much time talking. Today, I would do the same thing.
I am what I am. It’s all about human contact. Some 99 per cent of people I meet in my job are friendly and genuine. The 1 per cent have possibly travelled a distance. They’re walking in somewhere they don’t know. CUH is a big hospital compared with community hospitals so it can be intimidating. There are 800 beds and this will increase to 1,000 beds when additional services are be transferred to the CUH campus. There can be a fear factor, which I try to eliminate.
I don’t interact that much with the doctors. Doctors will bleep me and there’s interaction on the business side of things. They’ll chat but they don’t really deal with us that much. Training is important and has been made available throughout the HSE. In May 2012, I did an end-of-life care course. Over the years, I’ve done the telephone receptionist course, and health and safety courses.
On Christmas day, I’ll be 47 and will be working. I’m absolutely fine with it. I’ve been doing it every Christmas for the past number of years. We create a bit of fun, especially for the kids. In all of my 20 or so years of working as a porter, there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t wanted to go to work. That’s fulfilling in itself.
The Irish Times