Care Home Volunteering: Weeks 1 and 2

During the summer I was really lucky and managed to arrange 4 weeks of work experience; 2 weeks in a small, privately owned care home and 2 weeks in a larger care home. They were both quite different so I was able to gain experience in varied environments.

My first two weeks volunteering were hard work but very rewarding. As I am only 16 and have no training, I was not allowed to do any actual caring, especially moving or helping carers to move the residents, but everything I could do was still useful, such as helping in the kitchen, and I was also able to spend time talking to the residents. It was fascinating to hear their views on the world and we had several interesting discussions whilst watching the news.

The care home itself is relatively small, with only 15 or 16 residents and is privately owned by a couple who own several care homes in Norwich. On most days, an activity had been arranged for the residents including music, craft and exercise. These were enjoyed enormously, especially singing and flower arranging, which I was told were their favourite activities.

Although I enjoyed most of my time spent there, my favourite part was talking to a 102 year old. She told me all about her family, especially her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whom she is very proud of. Some people in the home have family visiting everyday but others, like this lady, do not live near there family so are not able to see them as often as they would like. This can make their lives seem lonely; however the staff always try to be available for a chat and family members are able to call whenever they want.

During my second week there, I arrived in the morning to be told that one of the residents had passed away peacefully overnight. This was a sad day for everyone in the care home but it was amazing to see how well the carers managed everything. I had not met the lady but I knew she was very ill and someone was with her nearly all of the time. The staff dealt with everything wonderfully including comforting the bereaved family, sorting out her belongings and starting to look at funeral arrangements. This was my toughest day at the care home as I had to undertake tasks that the carers would usually do but I know they had an even tougher day, as she had been living there for a while and they had known her well.

Another upsetting part of being there was witnessing the residents with dementia. Physically, they were often the most able; however if you talked to them, you soon noticed that they did not have good short-term memory. The conversations would go round in circles as they very soon forgot what they had just said. Some of them also thought they were on holiday and would be leaving to go back to their parents’ house soon. This made me sad as you could see they were slowly getting worse but also glad that they were in such a lovely home.

The residents love living there and the ones I have spoken to have nothing but praise for the home. One lady was very proud of the gardens and insisted on showing me round them. They also love the food and especially enjoy the fact that there is often several choices. The main thing that stands out to me however is that the residents know how lucky they are to be in such a nice home.

I learnt so much from my time volunteering and it is difficult to put into words how fulfilling and moving the experience was. I now know how important care homes are and how tough yet amazing it is looking after the elderly. The carers taught me how to give the very ill the dignity they deserve and make sure everybody’s needs are looked after. I would highly recommend volunteering in a care home, whether you are interested in having a medical related career or not as it is a great insight into the world of work as well as learning more about the elderly.

 

Cheating Death

Last week I read an amazing article in the Times about a woman being revived from the dead. She died of cardiac arrest in a hospital in New York and showed no signs of life for an hour and 15 minutes. however, this was no ordinary hospital, it was a hospital called Stony Brook University School of Medicine (in America), one of the world’s leading centres for research on reviving the dead.

After CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) failed, Doctors chilled her body to slow the degeneration of her brain cells, and applied a sensor to her forehead to measure the saturation of oxygen in her brain. The team of Doctors trying to save the woman then attached her to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, which is a machine that oxygenates the blood. Within minutes the oxygen levels in the brain had shot up to 70% (The normal, in life, is 60 to 80 percent). Her heart then restarted and she made a full recovery.

What I find amazing is this is becoming an increasingly common occurrence. What was once considered a miracle is now quite normal in some American hospitals. All New York emergency rooms have recently been fitted with the cooling equipment which chills patients from 37°c to 32°c, keeping their cells viable and making death a reversible process. A British Doctor working on the team even said “No one should die of a heart attack in this day and age”.

The Perks of being a Doctor

Several of my friends can’t understand why on earth I would want to be a Doctor. They consider it a boring and/or gory job. One of my best friends has realised that I am serious about becoming a Doctor but still frequently says to me “But what if you kill someone?”; and she’s right, doctors do kill people. That sounds rather horrible but when we become doctors, we will have to accept that we can’t save everyone. However, it isn’t as if we are serial killers; our aim is to save lives. When my friend does ask me that, I simply say to her: Doctors aim to help people, but some people can’t be helped, some people don’t want help and sometimes the doctor makes a mistake and the ‘help’ doesn’t actually help. Yet, many people are helped by doctors.

In my opinion, that would be the greatest things about being a doctor, saving lives. Just imagine, some people are brought into hospital close to death, and walk out days later completely healthy. However there are a couple of other reasons too.

Becoming a Doctor (and being a Doctor) is challenging, both the journey to medical school, medical school itself, and actually when you are a Doctor. I love a challenge so this is another reason I would like to become a Doctor.

A third reason is I love all aspects of science and I particularly enjoy learning about the human body.

There are many other reasons why people may want to become a Doctor, though for me it is not about the pay or respect in society, but the thought of helping people, challenging myself and learning more about science.

 

Dementia

Since helping with the “Come Singing!”, I have become quite interested in Dementia. It is a disease which affects many people and lots of you may know somebody with it.

The term ‘Dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that include loss of memory, mood changes, and problems with communication and reasoning. There are many types of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting around 496,000 people in the UK. It was first described by the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer and is a physical disease affecting the brain. During the course of the disease, protein ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ develop in the structure of the brain, leading to the death of brain cells. People with Alzheimer’s also have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain. These chemicals are involved with the transmission of messages within the brain.

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. It is caused by problems in the supply of blood to the brain. Vascular dementia affects different people in different ways and the speed of the progression varies from person to person. Typically, the symptoms of vascular dementia begin suddenly, for example after a stroke.

At the moment there is no cure for Dementia but there are drugs that can help slow down some symptoms. However things like music therapy also help. Many people with Dementia can’t remember what they did or said five minutes ago, yet they can remember all the words to their favourite songs. Singing groups can help bring back the past for people with Dementia and also let them meet other people similar to them. They are also great fun (well, the one I went to was!).

I hope you found this interesting! For more information on Dementia visit: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk

The Joys of Latin

Many of you may be wondering what the title of my blog is all about. For those of you who do not know, “Carpe Diem” means seize the day. It is a Latin phrase that is still sometimes used today. You may not realise it (actually probably lots of you have realised!), but there are many phrases we still use today that are actually Latin. ETC stands for et cetera and means and so on; EG stands for exempli gratia and you may have guessed means for example; NB stands for nota bene and means note well; CV stands for curriculum vitae and means (the) course of (my) life; you may have seen the phrase cave canem which means beware of the dog. All of these phrases are Latin phrases, but are still commonly seen today. Other latin phrases that are still seen today include time phrases like AM, PM, AD and BC.

Latin and Greek are very important in the world of science and medicine. All plants have Latin names and the names of many illnesses come from Latin or Greek. For example Post Mortem (examination carried out to establish the cause of death) translates from Latin as After Death, and the word Cardio (heart) comes from the Greek word Kardia.

Latin is a great subject! I have been studying it for a while now and really enjoy it. Although it is not spoken anymore, it is still a useful subject, as many European languages have evolved from. We not only learn the language in our Latin lessons , but also discover more about life in the Roman Empire. We also look at Roman buildings, tombs etc (See what I did there!) and work out what the inscriptions mean. We learn Latin using the Cambridge Latin Course, where you meet Caecilius, Metella (constantly sitting in the atrium, of course) and good old Quintus, who we then follow around the Empire in the rest of the books.

Latin is an amazing language and if you ever get the chance to learn it, then I suggest you seize the opportunity, as it not only great fun, but very useful too, as you have just seen. (Just thought I’d remind you that Latin is not taught at many schools, so Universities see you as being “special” if you have studied it!)

Thanks for reading and I hope you liked it!

Come Singing!

Today (22/02/13) I went to help at ‘Come Singing!’, a music group for people with Dementia. It was a really interesting experience and I definitely would like to do it again. It is run by my piano teacher and she does several of them throughout Norfolk. The one I went to takes place once a month in a community centre and is for people with the early stages of Dementia. Many of the people there did not seem like they had Dementia, in fact I only really noticed it in a couple of the people.

Dementia is a very sad illness. It normally effects older people but younger people can be diagnosed with it, though this is quite rare. The term ‘dementia’ is used to describe the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by specific diseases and conditions. Symptoms of dementia include loss of memory, confusion and problems with speech and understanding.

The aim of ‘Come Singing!’ is to offer a welcome break from the isolation which dementia often brings. There are great songs of every sort – favourites from the musicals, standards, folk and traditional – and therapeutic musical activities to stimulate and tease the brain into action. The emphasis is on enjoying yourself – no echoes of primary school or hymn practice! – and the pleasure of singing in a group with focus is a great boost to self-confidence and well-being.

Everyone at the group really enjoyed themselves, and not the people with Dementia. There are lots of volunteers and carrers who also go along and not only help run it, but take part in the singing too. We sang a whole range of songs that everyone was familiar with and even added percussion and harmony! If you ever have the chance to do something like this, then definitely take the opportunity.

For more information on the ‘Come Singing!’ groups or Dementia visit: http://www.comesinging.org.uk

Spina Bifida

In last night’s episode of the BBC 1 television series “Call the Midwife”, a baby was born with something called Spina bifida. I was really interested in it and wanted to find out more; so I did some online research and hear is what I found out from the NHS website:

Spina bifida is a term that is used to describe a series of birth defects that affect the development of the spine and central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain, nerves and spinal cord. The spinal cord runs from the brain to the rest of the body and consists of nerve cells and bundles of nerves that connect all parts of the body to the brain.

The neural tube

During the first month of life, an embryo (developing baby) grows a primitive tissue structure called the neural tube. As the embryo develops, the neural tube begins to change into a more complicated structure of bones, tissue and nerves that will eventually form the spine and nervous system.

However, in cases of spina bifida, something goes wrong with the development of the neural tube and the spinal column (the ridge of bone that surrounds and protects the nerves) does not fully close. Spina bifida is a Latin term that means split spine.

Types of spina bifida

There are different types of spina bifida, including:

  • spina bifida occulta
  • spina bifida meningocele
  • myelomeningocele

Myelomeningocele

Myelomeningocele is the most serious type of spina bifida. It is estimated that it affects one baby in every 1,000 that are born in Britain.

In myelomeningocele, the spinal column remains open along several vertebrae (the disc-shaped bones that make up the spine). The membranes and spinal cord push out to create a sac in the baby’s back. Sometimes the sac is covered with membranes called meninges, although it often remains open, leaving the nervous system vulnerable to infections that may be fatal.

In most cases of myelomeningocele, surgery can be carried out to close the defect. However, extensive damage to the nervous system will usually have already taken place. Damage can result in a range of symptoms including:

  • partial or total paralysis of the lower limbs
  • bowel incontinence and urinary incontinence
  • loss of skin sensation

Most babies with myelomeningocele will also develop hydrocephalus, which is a condition where there is excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is the fluid that surrounds the brain.

The build-up of CSF is caused by problems with the development of the neural tube. Hydrocephalus needs to be treated with surgery because the extra pressure that the fluid places on the brain can cause brain damage.

Outlook

Over recent years, advancements in the treatment of spina bifida have resulted in a more positive outlook for the condition.

For example, before the 1960s, most children with spina bifida would die during their first year of life. However, today it is likely that children will survive into adulthood. Spina bifida can be a challenging condition to live with, but many adults with the condition are able to lead independent and fulfilling lives.

 

I hope you found this as interesting as I did! If you want to find out more, just search Spina Bifida on the internet.

The Beginning

Well, after a week of trying I have finally managed to get my blog working. Last Saturday I visited a Medlink conference and it was there that I heard about these blogs; so here’s mine!

A little bit about me: I’m a fifteen year old girl, living in Norfolk and going to Norwich High School for Girls. I love music; I play the violin, piano and sing, and take part in 2 choirs, 2 orchestras and a string quartet. I also dance 4 times a week and help with the pre-primary ballet class at my dancing school. I take part in D of E and I am hoping to start helping my piano teacher with singing groups that she runs for elderly people with Alzheimer’s.  I dislike playing most sport, but I love swimming, especially in the sea! I have wanted to be a doctor for a while now, but where did it all begin???

I remember in Nursery, we had to choose what job we wanted to be when we were older out of a doctor, nurse, fireman or policeman; I chose nurse simply because the picture looked most like me (blonde and female). Between the ages of about 7 and 11, whilst all of my friends still wanted to be princesses, I wanted to be a Paediatrician. This was until my Mum told me I would have to look after very ill children and it would be upsetting. I quickly changed my mind. I then went through a stage of not knowing what I wanted to do. Then one evening I was watching Holby City and a heart operation was being performed. One of the surgeons was holding a beating heart in his hand, and it was at that moment that I realised, that was what I wanted to do.

That may all sound rather silly, but it’s true. I know real life isn’t like a television program but I still want to have a go. The thought of saving so many lives and helping so many people is what really makes me want to do it.

So there you have it, my first post. I hope you enjoyed it!