Volunteering at Christmas

Former Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) nurse Mary Wallis shares some of her experiences at the hospital and tells us about volunteering at GOSH at this very special time of year.

Looking after the whole family

“When you look after children at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), you’re not just looking after that child – you’re looking after the whole family. There’s never just one person involved.”

Mary Wallis has been looking after families since the mid-60s – working as a staff nurse in Salisbury before embarking on midwifery training in Southampton.

“During this time, I realised that I knew very little about sick children and I wanted to pursue this as a career.”

She followed her calling to GOSH, where she did her training and started work as a staff nurse in April 1967.

“I was at GOSH for 40 years as a staff nurse, night sister and ward sister. I also worked in Uganda as a ward sister at Mulago Hospital.

“It’s difficult to pick one highlight of my career – the highlight has just been working at GOSH, enjoying the families and working with them and being there for them.”

A peaceful place

Though technically retired, Mary’s work is far from over – now she volunteers at the hospital for the Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care team, helping out with coffee mornings for families at the hospital chapel, which gives families some quiet time away from the hospital wards.

“The chapel is one of the most beautiful hospital chapels, in London and maybe in the country. It’s used by everybody, is open at all times and is open to all faiths. It’s light and bright and in an area of the hospital that’s easily accessible. It has a little foyer area where people can sit and chat – and that’s where we have the coffee mornings. The Mothers Union bring the cakes and make the coffee and remain in the chapel with the chaplains, so they can talk to the families.”

Mary pays regular visits to the hospital wards to meet and chat to families and patients.

“I go to the wards to visit the families and tell them about the coffee mornings. The chapel is a special place that parents can come to pray or have a bit of a break from the wards when it gets a bit hectic and to just think things through.”

A lasting relationship

Christmas is a time when things can be particularly difficult for families at the hospital. The hospital staff and volunteers like Mary do their best to make Christmas a positive experience for the families. As well as helping with the coffee mornings, Mary attends the midnight Holy Communion service in the chapel on Christmas Eve and visits the wards on Christmas Day to see some of the families that she has come to know.

“I am still in contact with some of the families I met when I was a nurse at GOSH. In fact, I recently met up with a family whose son was born at 26 weeks with an abnormality that needed surgery soon after birth. Unfortunately, too much oxygen damaged his eyes and he was blind in one eye and visually impaired in the other.

"I have been in contact with his father since 1986 – his son is 32 now and a computer expert who is helping RNIB and University College London to set up education programmes for aspiring young musicians with visual impairment.”

A very different hospital

Things at the hospital have naturally changed a great deal in Mary’s time.

“The new wards are vastly different – they’re huge. There is a lot more walking to do now!

“Back in the day there was a lack of facilities for parents to stay the night, other than a chair by the bed. We tried to make it as friendly as we could and at Christmas we decorated – but it’s much better catered for families now.

“GOSH is a very special place – people come from all over the UK to be here, often as a last resort. Children will come here for very specialised reasons, which makes it very different from most hospitals.”

12 Days of GOSH Xmas

The hospital, with support from GOSH Children’s Charity, ensures that children coming to hospital during Christmas time have the best possible experience. From 14 to 25 December, we’re shining a light on some of those experiences, including those for children who are sadly too ill to spend Christmas at home.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to hear more stories from the hospital and charity.

You can share your own GOSH Christmas experiences with the hashtag #GOSHXmas.