Vanna Lymberopolous - Volunteer at St. Paul's Hospital

By Evan Duxbury

How did you come to volunteer at SPH?

I was born at SPH, grew up in Vancouver and began volunteering at Blenheim lodge, an elder care home, when I was about 8 years old. I volunteered in the emergency department at Kelowna General as well as with the UBC student union and senate, so volunteering has been a hobby of mine all my life. I’d heard wonderful things about volunteering at SPH so I signed up about 4 years ago.

What is your role as a volunteer?

I knew I wanted patient interaction, so I chose to be in the renal department on 6B. It’s a dialysis center where people with kidney disease come in for treatment. I bring coffee and cookies around to patients but primarily I’m there to chat with them. I do more listening than talking, they tell me about the stuff they’re going through, share pictures and talk about their children.  We share so much that it feels like they’re family.

What makes you want to do so much volunteering?

I get that cliché warm, fuzzy feeling from helping people. You can imagine how boring it can be to sit on a dialysis machine in an uncomfortable position, while you’re not feeling well. Being able to bring a smile to the patients’ faces brings me a lot of happiness. Most of them are much older than me and very wise so I actually learn a lot from speaking with them. When I’m struggling with something they give me great advice and share similar stories.

Does any experience stand out as a favorite from your time here?

All the patients are very appreciative of the volunteers, but this one woman in particular shared her life story with me over a period of 3 hours. We definitely bonded when it came up that she’d milked cows in her childhood, and I’d milked goats in Greece. She would say “if I weren’t in here, I’d never have met you and all these other amazing volunteers!” She was more than 90 years old but was still super sharp. I’ve never met anybody who could be so positive under such challenging circumstances.

Have there been any particularly tough moments?

When you come in on a shift and you see an empty bed, you’re scared to ask what’s happened. Sometimes patients have just changed their schedule, but sometimes they’ve passed on, which can be very tough.

One patient in particular was Greek and couldn’t speak English very well, so sometimes I was translating for doctors and nurses. She lived only a few blocks from my house and my mother knew her through the Greek community. She was recovering from multiple heart attacks and shared with me that she’d never experienced such pain. I was really worried for her, and sure enough my mom later learned through the church that she had passed away. I went to the funeral and met some of her family. That was very, very sad. It sounds strange that you could grow so close since you only see them once a week but as I said, we share a lot so they’re definitely missed.

Everybody deals with it differently, and you might need to leave your shift or take a break. I’m a go-go-go person so staying busy helped me cope with that.

How do staff interact with volunteers?

The staff are busy so they don’t have a lot time to spend with us, but they’re great role models. They have so much to do and so many demands but they manage to care so much about each patient. They’re always positive and friendly and willing to help me when I need it and they say things like, “let me know if you ever apply for a job, I’ll see what I can do” so they genuinely care about us.

Volunteer resources offers information sessions on careers like radiology and nursing. Those are the more formal opportunities to chat more in-depth with staff.

What’s next for you?

I studied biochemistry and geography at UBC for my bachelors but I’m hoping to begin a graduate program in health information science. I’m hoping to work with e-health data, analyzing the numbers and then communicating the results to the population. I think it’s exciting that our health care system is shifting in that direction.

How has your time at SPH changed you?

I’ve always been a positive person but I’ve gained a sense of gratitude from working at SPH, it puts everything in perspective. Seeing how patients deal with their circumstances is uplifting.

I’ve never had a negative incident in my 4 years here, volunteering at SPH has been one of the best experiences of my life.


Click here to view volunteer opportunities at PHC