I’ve been volunteering for some time now as a patient for a EPPSAT, the Edinburgh Patient Partnership Programme. I assist in the GMC exams, student doctor final year exams, and third/fourth year student doctors who are starting their cardiology rotation. I’ve even volunteered for some research studies, one of which examined the use of MRI scanners in detecting deterioration of the Heart Valves over time in various patients, a study that not only was extremely fruitful for the forwarding of diagnosis, but also for my own diagnosis.
There are two reasons I started this. The first one is when after Mum died and my Dad was living on his own, he started volunteering at the local hospital. It began as something to occupy his time, but now he volunteers for solicitors, offshore medics, nurses and doctors alike. He now owns a make-up box and has a special section of his wardrobe for the outfits that he will, at the appropriate time, use. This kind of behaviour was a total turn around for my Dad, it’s a side of him we never saw until now, unless you count his period of wearing a toupee, but we don’t mention that anymore. In fact if he reads this he’ll probably be after my blood.
He will often call me and talk about the fact he’s just had gonorrhoea, various types of hepatitis, he and his play wife are fighting over a divorce again, his father has severe dementia and he’s abandoning him in the hospital, or the toughest ones, when his script calls for him to play a grieving patient for his wife lost to cancer.
You can see, he takes this seriously. In fact he volunteers almost five days a week, sometimes nine till five. Oh, and he’s in his late seventies and also has Parkinsons.
The other thing that inspired me is that I was born with a heart defect. Diagnosed at thirteen and told that sometime in the future I might have to have an operation was a shocking moment. Although it changed my younger years, I’ve since pushed what I should have been doing by taking up mountain biking and, for a short time racing, body building and trail running. Not to mention partying. In other words I went about a normal life.
Still, I was having regular check-ups at the hospital, every few years, then every two, and then a study request came through. Would I like to participate in a study to use the MRI to identify degeneration of the heart in affected patients over time. The idea was that a quick MRI could identify patients at risk much earlier and easier and therefore get them through surgery quickly and before it became a problem for them.
It really was the last MRI I had from the Doctor running the study which highlighted that I needed the operation, I’ve written about this before on the site – have a look at the My Heart category – so I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say that study and his judgement could well have prevented something more serious happening. Now I have a Pyrolitic Carbon heart valve and things are going well.
That made me think. That study helped me, but what if it’s adopted and it helps loads of other people? More to the point, the Doctor I had was superb, engaging, and really helped me. I’ve had many of them throughout the years both as GPs and as Doctors and Consultants at hospital. So if EPPSAT needed patients with heart valves, I was going to give something back.
If I could help, in some small way, future Doctors, Consultants and GPs in their training then that could be the something I gave back. The bonus is that it’s fun and during long sessions you can get a cup of tea and a cake. Actually that’s not true, the bonus is that I get to talk to some fascinating people and learn new things about my own heart and valve – my last session I was chatting with one of the Examiners who was a Plastic Surgeon and he not only told me how to get rid of the “angry” part of my scar, but we talked about facial reconstructions. Fascinating.
I would highly recommend that if you have a medical condition or are into amateur dramatics, and you have some free time in hand, then get in contact with EPPSAT. If you’re not in Edinburgh, look into your local hospital for they will do the same thing.
It’s not only hospitals that do this, Dentistry also need volunteer patients, in fact my Dad is even a volunteer for offshore medics and as a client for trainee solicitors. Oh he’s versatile in his art. I never knew he had it in him.