Twenty years ago last week, I celebrated a special anniversary. No big party. No cake. Not even a glass of prosecco or beer. This was an anniversary I observed quietly to myself and with Dr J. I just said a silent thank you in my head – thank you to the NHS and the amazing doctors and nurses who saved my dad’s life. The miracle workers of the Walton Centre in Liverpool.
It was a hot afternoon, 4 July 1998, as I was enjoying my first summer holiday as an university student. My dad was sent to hospital by his GP who made a house call as my dad had been at home ill for several days. The phone call he then made, the subsequent brain scan he arranged at our local hospital and the quick thinking of doctors there to send him to the world-renowned neurological centre in Walton gave him the precious minutes he needed. Within two hours of his GP sending him to hospital he was being prepped for surgery and we were told later this speed of action saved his life with minutes to spare. He had a subdural haematoma – a blood clot between his brain and skull, the size of a orange.
The story didn’t end there but in the interests of time I’ll cut to the chase; he had three major brain surgeries in four days and dodged the bullet with his name on it three times. He is still going strong today, twenty years on from the biggest shock of his life.
Now there is no way the doctors and nurses who treated my dad see themselves as miracle workers as I do – they were just doing their job – but without them we would have had a huge hole in lives for the last two decades and my dad wouldn’t be getting ready now to walk his only daughter down the aisle a fortnight on Saturday and my mum would have been a widow well before she was 50.
It’s not the first or last time that I or my family have relied on the NHS and not the first time I’ve had cause to say a big thank you to them – my father-in-law has just received magnificent cancer treatment in Derry for which he is overwhelmingly grateful. It is a platitude and a cliche now sadly – especially when observing politicians – to praise the NHS and the heroes of our hospitals and yet when we are touched by their life saving work; their compassion; their kindness as I have been many times we just want to shout it from the rooftops. We know how important it is and how reassured we are that it is there for us.
Last night, Dr J and I watched another enthralling episode of BBC’s documentary, the Hospital, set at the hospitals which make up Imperial College Healthcare in London. Not for the first time, we both wept like babies throughout the programme as we lived and breathed the stories being told. Both of us silently imaging our devastation if that was our precious girl lying in the bed, needing the NHS’ help. Both hoping that if that calamity should ever befall us, we are in the hands of the people we saw on TV.
It has been an inspiring series, not least because it has shone a light on the genuinely life-changing actions of some of the world’s most impressive medical staff, but also because it has not shied away from tackling difficult issues and telling us the truth about the pressures on hospitals and the compromises that have to be made. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had bad experiences in hospital too and felt the rough end of those compromises but that is not the point; we shouldn’t judge anything or anything by their worse action or moment but by the totality of their life and efforts. The Hospital helps us to see beyond the numbers and the headlines and see the people. It helps us see the faces of the people who make the decisions that affect so many lives and the care and dedication that goes into that process.
It is because of hospitals like that and the Walton Centre that my mum, sister and I can look back on that summer of 1998 and be able to smile; be able to say thank you; be able to look at Victor Joseph Richard Jones in the face today. Still going strong, twenty years on, thanks to the NHS.