Palliative Care Week Profile - Danny Patterson, Volunteer Patient Family Advisor, Eastern Zone
Sydney native, Danny Patterson, recalls as if it were yesterday, how he came to be one of the Eastern Zone’s many dedicated Palliative Care volunteers. “My father was in palliative care. I walked in the room one day and there was a volunteer sitting there. You’d swear she was his daughter; she was treating him so good. I thought, Wow. Because you feel no one can treat your loved one like you can.”
Now in his eighth year of volunteering, Patterson remains passionate about the important role volunteers play in putting patients and family members at ease, in both the palliative care unit at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and the nearby hospice. “It’s especially important when the family’s loved one is first brought in,” says Patterson. “The emotions are very high, and they’re scared.”
A consummate storyteller, Patterson paints a vivid picture of how he goes about his business. “You walk in the room and tell them you’re a volunteer and you’re there to assist them in any way you can. You can read the room. It happens, it unfolds. I take them down to the kitchen for a cup of tea or coffee and one of the volunteer baker's famous cinnamon rolls or a cookie. They start to open up. You talk, you tell them about the unit and what goes on there and they talk more, and it goes on from there.”
Patterson’s smiles and says, “There’s no better icebreaker than food.”
Patterson tells prospective volunteers that there is a fit for everyone. “Some people, like Dina, bake and there’s a group of ladies that bring flowers in for the patients. We call them the flower ladies. You wouldn’t believe what a difference the flowers make.” Jill, whom Patterson calls the music lady, is another volunteer he is keen to tell people about. Jill uses a recording device placed in teddy bears to help patients record special messages for their loved ones.
Now retired from his work in the housing services unit of Community Services where he did emergency repairs on seniors’ and low-income families’ homes, Patterson spends Wednesday mornings with patients and families at the hospital and afternoons at the hospice just down the road. Living just five minutes away from the hospital, he’s also happier to drop in at other times to lend an extra hand when needed. “It’s a much better use of my time than sitting at home, watching TV.”
Earlier this year, Patterson joined Nova Scotia Health’s Palliative Care Network as a Patient Family Advisor. In this role, he collaborates with other palliative care staff and volunteers across the province to develop policies and processes to support people who provide palliative care.
Patterson’s Wednesday routine varies from week to week. He starts off the morning by first checking in with Dina, the volunteer baker, then walks around the unit saying hello. “Sometimes you get through the whole unit and other days maybe just one or two rooms. It just depends on what’s needed. You can pretty well tell when someone needs to have someone with them who isn’t staff. The veil falls. I’m just me, not a doctor or a lawyer. I’m vulnerable like they are. Sometimes you talk for a few minutes, sometimes a couple of hours.”
There is no doubt in Patterson’s mind that he is giving back to his community in a meaningful way. He says, “I can’t think of a more rewarding thing to do – to sit down with the patients and their families. Words aren’t there to explain it.”