Posted: Sat 21st Jan 2023

Corrie’s heartrending account highlights hidden pressures for North Wales hospital porters

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Saturday, Jan 21st, 2023

A father who witnessed heartbreaking scenes working as a porter at a North Wales hospital has written a moving personal account of his experiences.

Corrie Twist, 45 and from Rhyl, recounted how witnessing someone collapsing and dying, before having to transport a deceased infant to the mortuary left an indelible mark on him.

Now assistant manager of portering at Glan Clwyd Hospital, he first opened up as part of one of the site’s Schwartz Rounds.

The meetings are designed to provide a structured forum where all staff, clinical and non-clinical, can share experiences and openly discuss the challenges and rewards associated with providing care.

He said: “It struck me how much we see during our day and some of it can be quite traumatic. I thought I should open up so younger colleagues would feel better about talking about their mental health and what they have to deal with.

“It’s quite a demanding job, as you’re sorting out problems all the time, but it is really rewarding. Every story is so different but it’s important to talk about what has happened in your day.”

After working in civil engineering with the same company for 23 years, Corrie worked on a project at the hospital for six of them – and decided being close to home was where he wanted to be.

So, he got a job as a porter at Glan Clwyd and worked his way up. The experience convinced him to encourage staff to process what they experience and he vowed never to ask them to do something he wouldn’t do himself.

Part of that process was to open up about the scenes he had witnessed and he gives a searing insight into the challenges of doing a role many people never notice when they visit a hospital.

Corrie is quick to point out there are far more positives than negatives to being a porter but believes it is important people understand the mental health pressures too.

A keen runner, he said getting out and exercising was another way of dealing with the difficult parts of the job.

*Evidence shows attending Schwartz Rounds reduces feelings of stress and isolation, increases insight and helps develop appreciation for the roles of colleagues in other fields.

Read Corrie’s story, in his own words, below:

The day in the life of a Porter

As the rain hits my windscreen, the wipers doing their very best to clear it, I feel a wave of anxiety come over me.

My mind starts to wander and I begin to reflect on my previous shift. It is 4.45am and I’m due to start at 6am.

Pulling into the carpark, my mind was still preoccupied with the last evening’s events – what would today bring? Surely, nothing could be as distressing as the day before.

My mind drifted, reliving the moments. I could vividly hear the MET call, us trained to respond promptly to medical emergencies.

I see myself in my uniform, running to the resuscitation area, making sure the resus team had clear direction of the whereabouts of the patient who desperately needed their help.

I’m stood in the Resus room, watching, waiting and absorbing the trauma, engulfed by the atmosphere.

After what felt like an eternity, the machines still beeping, time was called. The male, in his 30s and not much younger than me, had sadly lost his life.

His injuries from the road traffic accident were too severe for his body to tolerate. Hearing the sound of his partner’s scream, the pain, the raw emotion in that moment, is something which never leaves you.

The nurse in charge called the team for the debrief. I can still hear her words.

She said: “We’re done here, you can go”.

I walked away, the words “we’re done here you can go” ringing in my ears.

Where do I go now? Do I go back to the porters lodge and discuss what I had just witnessed? Do I go for a walk to clear my mind? Was I not important enough to be invited to the debrief?

Before I had time to decide, the next job was in and I was called to attend the Emergency Department, to a seven-year-old boy with a fracture to his tibia.

On arrival he was scared, emotionally distressed and in pain. His mum was tearful. She told me he had fallen, unwitnessed, and she blamed herself.

My new assignment was to distract the little boy and take him to the plaster room whilst making mum feel at ease. After a few minutes, I’d built a rapport with the little boy over football. He was laughing and joking with me. I safely delivered him to his destination – my job was complete.

I walked towards the porters’ lodge as it was my allocated break time. I planned to get a drink and something to eat before the final part of my shift.

I sat in the lodge alongside two young inexperienced porters, silently reflecting on the previous hours.

The phone rang, the next job was called. A request was made to transfer a patient to the mortuary. I looked at the lads, I could see the unease in their eyes.

“We’ll do it lads,” I said, referring to a more experienced porter and myself. More details came through. The call was from maternity and it was at that point I knew it was a baby.

We walked over to the mortuary vehicle, naturally a thousand and one questions running through my mind. I wonder what had happened. Is it a boy or girl? How old?

Trying desperately to distract myself, I made small talk with my colleague. “Not long to go now mate, we’re nearly done,” I said.

We drove to the mortuary, a few superficial words shared between us. This call is never an easy one and an awkward silence gave precious time to reflect on loved ones.

I can see myself, like some sort of out of body experience, standing in the mortuary holding a small box.

I take the box into my arms, knowing soon placed within it would be a little baby – someone’s child, their bundle of joy, their whole world.

As a porter, I never considered this task would ever fall into my path.

I compose myself, giving myself a reality check, thinking about anything in order to distract from what I was about to do. I take a deep breath, a hard gulp, and walk briskly to the awaiting vehicle.

Hypervigilance and anxiety runs right through me, I am aware of everything around me as I approach the maternity ward.

I hear a baby crying in the distance, mothers chatting on the corridor, the sound of machines beeping away. My heart begins to palpitate and my hands become clammy, as I approach the nursing station.

The nurse in charge is aware of my presence and gives me a look of acknowledgment before calling me to one side.

I notice the redness in and around her eyes. I can see she has been crying.

However, she remains dignified and takes the small box from me. I stand aside, patiently waiting.

The other porter with me quickly turns his head and is as uncomfortable as I am. We are both struggling.

After what feels like an eternity, the nurse reappears and calls me into a side room with dimmed lights. The blinds are drawn and window closed.

The smell of baby products fills the room. I am unsure what the smell is but I presume it’s baby bath. It smells warm and soft, giving an overwhelming feeling of life.

As I walk towards the bed in front of me, there lays a little blue blanket wrapped around the tiny box which I’d carried like precious cargo. A small, cuddly animal toy is tucked in the side.

I knew this time it wouldn’t feel weightless. This time, it’s like I can feel the weight of sadness, sorrow, pain and heartfelt condolences, all poured into this tiny box.

As I reach out for this precious package, I’m trembling. My heart, heavy with sadness, races but I pray my resilience takes over.

I can feel the perspiration on my hands as I become clammy and a wave of anxiety, dread almost, flows through me.

My hands slide underneath the soft blue blanket and within a split second, I was responsible for that little boy.

I would ensure I transferred him to his next destination with dignity and the utmost respect.  

In that brief moment, it felt like time stood still. Nothing really seemed to matter. All the irrelevant things we worry about on a daily basis, seemed to subside.

My heart feels drenched in sadness. Holding back the waves of emotion, I pray this is the last time I ever have to do this.

I am aware of the sounds on the ward. I can hear footsteps. However, at that point in time, the sounds disappeared. All I can hear now is my own breathing, trying desperately to regulate it.

I’m unsure whether panic had set in, or I was just no longer psychologically there. I found myself back at the vehicle in silence, looking down at the bundle on my lap wondering, overthinking.

I thought about whose little boy was I responsible for? Whose world had just ended? So many questions, trying desperately to restore my own peace of mind, that place I go when I run.

In all honesty that four-minute drive back to the mortuary was the longest four minutes of my life. It felt like slow motion, stuck on pause, the van still in silence.

What words can truly be spoken that have any value in this situation? There are no words, only respect and dignity.

You would think the hardest part was to collect the child from the maternity ward, an environment filled with new life, love and laughter.

For me the hardest part is walking away, transferring the baby to the mortuary, the place of silence, filled with sadness, anxieties and unanswered questions. Even in the summer months, it feels cold and has an emptiness about it.

I carefully hand over the precious cargo wrapped in that soft blanket, making sure that little blue animal toy stays where it should be.

A sense of relief engulfs me; I completed my task despite facing my fears. I make my return to the porters’ lodge, painting on that very same smile I do every day, making polite pleasantries with anyone I pass.

It’s an effort to replace the sorrow with some form of cheer. I know I’m becoming avoidant and more resilient as each job is completed.

People say: “They’re only porters”. They say: “The porter will do it”. They have no idea of the true day in the life of a porter.

How could they? They don’t know, they don’t walk in our shoes.

I ask you this: “Could you do it? Could you switch your emotions off so easily? Could you become so resilient? Is it easier not to feel anything at all?”

I look at my watch and I have six minutes until my new shift starts. I walk briskly across the car park.

The wind is accompanied by sleet. I’m trying desperately to forget the previous day’s events, focussing on the positives, planning my next run.

As I make my way to the porters lodge I wonder, “what will today bring?”

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