BEING made redundant simultaneously in 2012 could have been a devastating blow for husband and wife team Hilmi and Deb Hilmi.
But instead, it set them on a rewarding new path to give back to their community.
During an unsuccessful year-long hunt for work, they fell into hospital volunteering after discovering an unmet need among patients.
Hilmi’s mother was in Footscray Hospital five years ago, and in her weakened state was battling to cut up her food.
The couple began helping her with her meals, and soon discovered her roommates were having similar trouble.
“We started going around the room, opening lids, cutting up food, but we didn’t feed people as that’s what the nurses do,” he says.
“When mum went to Sunshine Hospital, we did the same thing. We discovered people were going hungry because they couldn’t open lids or use the cutlery properly.”
The couple now tread the wards each week delivering books, social support and meal assistance, and act as visitor guides showing people around the hospital.
They love being exposed to the rich patchwork of society and have forged lasting friendships with many patients.
Hilmi fondly remembers a spirited 100-year-old woman, Thelma, who was living at home alone before she had a fall, fracturing her pelvis and hip.
“It was a big thrill to meet her; she was very independent but after the fall had to go into a nursing home,” he says.
“She didn’t like that at all. We visited her a couple of times, we had a good friendship. Even if you try not to, you do get attached to people.”
Thelma sent the couple a thank you note after they visited, and went on to live until 101 and a half.
Another standout was meeting a former Footscray Football Club player called Alan, who regaled him with stories of the club’s history and shared pictures of legend Ted Whitten.
Co-incidentally, Hilmi had also met a boot studder from the club, now the Western Bulldogs, on one of the wards a short time earlier.
“I was walking out of the lift one day and a man called out: `Go Doggies’. I replied: `Go Cats’,” Hilmi recalls.
“We had a bit of a chat and it turned out he had played three games in the ‘50s. I said ‘I met the boot studder at Footscray during that time’. And he knew who he was. They were both called Alan.”
He says the volunteers give patients a “bit of a pep up”, and even simple acts, like a cup of tea for a dying man who was having difficulty swallowing, go a long way.
“They are all very appreciative that someone has taken the time to spend with them,” he says.
“People say the hospital couldn’t do without volunteers. But you don’t do it for a pat on the back. It keeps me out of mischief.”
There are sad days too, says Deb, 65.
Like the man in his 40s who, when asked if he’d like a book to read, responded: “Only if you have a book about how to cure cancer – otherwise, go away”.
“The next time he was a bit quieter and said: ‘I’m sorry, I just found out I had brain tumours‘. I said: ‘I’d be acting a lot worse than you’. After that, he started talking and opening up,” she remembers.
“He was there for months and eventually passed away. I saw him deteriorate and it was heartbreaking.”
The Greatest Need Project is an online story-sharing website with two major goals – to help patients facing significant hardship and disadvantage, and to facilitate research, at Western Health.
As a volunteers, Deb and Hilmi are sharing their story in bid to help those at Western Health who need it most.
By making a donation on the couple’s behalf – and sharing their story on social media – you are making a difference too. Thank you.