They are two energetic and passionate volunteers and one grateful patient. Together, they created a very special event for patients of The Scarborough Hospital’s (TSH) CP1 Medicine and Geriatrics unit at the General campus.
Last fall, Zeal Desai – a volunteer with TSH for the past three years – began volunteering on CP1 as part of the Mealtime Assistance Program, providing assistance and companionship for patients during lunch times. Zeal’s friend, Antara Chatterjee, had also recently become a volunteer at TSH’s Breast Clinic. After interacting with a number of the patients on CP1, the young women wanted to create an event “that would allow patients to interact with one other, and would give patients and families the opportunity for positive social interaction while in hospital,” said Zeal.
“The patients have such rich stories to share and so many incredible experiences we wanted to do something to honour their lives and celebrate their strengths,” adds Antara.
With the guidance of CP1 Patient Care Manager Meredith DePaulsen and Manager of Volunteer Services Debbie Vandenberg, Zeal and Antara developed Saturday Showcase, a monthly two-hour afternoon event held in the common area on the unit. Each event would feature a presentation, as well as games, arts and crafts, and refreshments.
The first event was set for December 5 with a holiday theme. And Zeal had her eye on a very special former patient as the presenter. Susan Dimitrakopoulos had been a patient on CP1 for two weeks in October to treat an exacerbation of her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). During Susan’s stay at TSH, Zeal had spoken with her and learned of her talent as a photographer and artist.
Susan was only too happy to give back to TSH with a presentation of her photography at the inaugural Saturday Showcase. “The care I received was very personalized and everybody seemed genuinely interested in the patients,” said Susan.
But it wasn’t just Susan’s artistic talents that impressed Zeal, but also the “courage and motivation” she displayed in her personal life. In early 2003, Susan’s husband passed away following a long illness, and then her mother passed away in November of that year. In early 2004, a favourite uncle and her pet cat also died.
After so many tragic losses so close together, Susan admits she went through a period where she “just couldn’t get going anymore.”
However, one day while she was sitting at home “a voice in my head told me to get my camera and go outside,” explains Susan.
“I had always loved photography, but had not taken many nature photos. But I ended up going outside with my camera, and then began going out each day to take photos. And every time I would hear, smell, or see something different and it was as if the whole world opened up to me again.”
In addition to her beautiful photography, Susan also shared her inspirational personal story at the Saturday Showcase. Susan’s presentation, combined with the arts and crafts and games, led to an outstanding event “where every patient could engage and participate,” said Meredith.
“Our patient population often has longer stays in hospital and varying levels of illness severity, so this event was designed to engage patients in many ways. There was a visual opportunity with the presentation, and the activities were set up so patients could just observe, or take part in whatever way they were comfortable,” she said.
For Antara, one of the most special moments during the event was witnessing a patient who struggles to talk and communicate “smiling and singing and decorating Christmas ornaments. It was just so rewarding to see that,” she explains.
“We are also grateful for the efforts of volunteers Sarah Edwards and Deeana Saminathan, and high school students James Berco and Madeleine Evans, who helped to make the event run smoothly,” adds Zeal. “Their presence was much appreciated by the patients who attended as well.”
On January 16, the group held a second successful Saturday Showcase featuring a comedy presentation. A Valentine’s Day themed event is set for February, and in March, the event will have an ‘Oscars’ theme to coincide with the Academy Awards.
Like Susan, for Zeal and Antara – both of whom are recent graduates of the Life Sciences program at the University of Toronto – the motivation to give back is also what drives them as volunteers.
“It’s important for young people to come together and try to make a positive impact in their community,” stresses Antara.
Zeal adds that “getting to spend time with the patients and share their special memories is not only so important to them, but also a truly remarkable experience for us.”