Beyond the Hospice: Gail Chalk
Friday 10th May 2019
Our team at St. Vincent’s come from a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences, and roads which have led them to help us provide the care that we do on a daily basis. One of these individuals is Gail Chalk, who has been with us since year one, and touched so many lives during this time. But this is only part of her story.
How long have you worked at St. Vincent’s Hospice?
I started on the 14th of July 1988, I still remember the day I started. I worked here for nine years full before becoming part time after maternity leave. Not long after, I left for six years to have my three boys. So that would have been in ’96, and came back in January 2000, been here ever since.
What’s the biggest difference between then and now?
Well there were a lot less of us. There were three nuns, one ward sister, a fundraiser, an assistant and a cook…that was about it. I loved it, it was like being in your own home. Although I still love it, it’s just different, there are more people and more staff now, but that’s because times change and you need to adapt with them. The care is still amazing and the main focus.
So, outside of work you are involved in a lot of different projects…can you give us a brief rundown of what else you do?
Well my husband and I run a busy church, my husband is the minister. It’s so busy that four years ago we opened a café, so the days I’m not here I’m there. It’s all ran by volunteers, my husband and I do the cooking.
We help with a foodbank for the local community. We run a sewing group one day a week for women who have fled from countries that are affected by war and conflict. We help them get housed, and learn English and get on their feet.
I also go to Ghana every year as part of a project I’ve been working on for 16 years. We helped build an orphanage that is still up and running and we’ve built three schools. All year we fundraise through the church, in fact at the moment we’re halfway through building a church.
While we’re there we also take food to two villages, enough to last them a few months.
How do you manage to do it all?
I don’t know actually; I’m exhausted [laughs]. I just love it to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. So yeah, I think it’s safe to say I’m quite busy when I’m not here.
What’s your plans for the future?
I don’t really know. I’d love to spend a bit more time in Ghana, maybe go out there for a month instead of a week at a time, but that’s probably a few years away yet. So in the meantime, I’ll keep working here.
Coming back to the Inpatient Unit, what’s your favourite memory?
With that in mind, what’s been your favourite memory of the Inpatient Unit?
We had a patient a few years ago and held a celebration, got a cake and everything, to celebrate him receiving his UK citizenship that was an amazing thing to be part of, and definitely a first. There have been lots though. I did a bed push from Paisley to Johnstone when I was 8 months pregnant, we all dressed up – I was a clown – and the response we got was amazing, that was good fun.
I cycled round Millport and came in second. We sat in a bath in Glasgow Central to raise money for our patient bath dressed as a mermaid. I’ve done a lot of good things, had a lot of good laughs.
I’ve been close to so many patients that have been through here, but there was one man, Peter McAinsh who was here for a couple of years. He was suffering from Motor Neurone Disease and was such a lovely man and we shared a lot of good times together. I actually named my middle son after him. Conor Peter Chalk.
Not long after he was born I brought him in to meet Peter…when I told him what I had named my son he was overwhelmed. Moments like that are what make this place so special.
Do you think some people have a misconception about Hospices?
I think people have the weirdest perception of what a hospice is. Yes, we have our tough days, absolutely, but it’s how you cope and how you deal with it that’s important. It’s how you handle it outside of here as well, and while sometimes you will show emotion, the priority is making sure the families and other patients are OK.
You have to have a good laugh. I know that might not sound right, but you do, and we have such a good team. We’re all here for each other, so even on the hard days, you’re not alone. A good team makes a difference. I love it. I wouldn’t change it for anything.