Vaughn McEachen recently survived a serious battle with COVID-19, yet was itching to get back to his volunteer job.
So just days after being released from hospital, where he spent time in intensive care on a ventilator, the Sarnia man asked if he could start making Tel-Check calls again.
“I was ready to start taking my shifts,” said McEachen. “But Donna told me to take another week.”
That would be Donna Martin, who co-ordinates Tel-Check and the Distress Line at the Family Counselling Centre.
“It just speaks to his character,” said Martin. “I was gobsmacked and very relieved because I care deeply about Vaughn and his wife Jackie.”
Tel-Check is a volunteer-driven service that telephones isolated seniors and others in need of a friendly voice.
Jackie McEachen has been a Tel-Check volunteer 15 years and her husband began making calls about five years ago.
Together they work as a team to check in on local folks.
Jackie, who is blind and uses a wheelchair, oversees the client list using a computer screen-reader. Vaughn, who is nearly blind, a double amputee, and with a permanent tracheotomy, generally does the talking.
“Sometimes we’re the only call they get,” he said. “We listen, make sure they’re safe, and ask them how their day is going.”
It helps that Vaughn is a natural comedian able to lighten the mood easily.
“I enjoy helping people,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot and I still struggle medically. But I’ve been given my life back, and I want to give back.”
Most of Tel-Check’s 80 volunteers work 12 hours a month, while the McEachens often put in double that.
And the service is undergoing its greatest demand in 25 years, said Martin. Since mid-March when the pandemic began, the number of clients has grown 35% to 118.
“We’re getting many referrals from the medical community because doctors are doing what they can to see that their patients’ needs are met,” Martin said.
“We’re getting clients with anxiety, depression and significant health issues who feel isolated and have few supports.”
The free Tel-Check calls provide an upbeat social visit while offering reassurance.
“For me, it’s about putting COVID-19 behind me and fully listening to these people,” Vaughn McEachen said. “I love doing this kind of work.”
Added Jackie: “When we’re helping someone else, it makes whatever is going on in our lives seem not so bad.”