On Monday afternoon at 14.45 I picked up the voicemail at work everyone dreads hearing. “I think Dad has had a stroke. He’s in the ambulance going to hospital,” was the message left by my 78-year-old mother, desperately trying to remain calm after finding her husband of more than 54 years collapsed on the patio.
Forty-five minutes earlier they had been making plans to go to the cinema to watch Twelve Years A Slave, my mother preparing a late lunch and my father, it turns out, deciding to give the patio a once over with a stiff brush after cleaning the interior of his car. He is a man who likes to keep busy.
Then he collapsed. A large brain bleed which, in an instant, stole my father’s power of speech and the use of his right side. In the blink of an eye, life changed forever.
Ten minutes after the call, I was at the James Paget University Hospital, Gorleston, being led through A&E by a paramedic called Ken who, by luck, had been just minutes away from my parents’ home when the emergency call came and, with quiet efficiency, did what he could for my father while keeping my mother calm.
“He was absolutely brilliant,” said my mother, still shaking from the shock, still wearing her apron, fretting that she’d left their two plates of liver and bacon, potatoes and sprouts on the kitchen table untouched and scared that the man she had verbally sparred with day and night for more than half a century was now unable to answer the simplest of questions. Would they ever bicker again, she said, bewildered and scared?
In those first minutes, Ken had reassured her, comforted her and explained what he was doing for dad.
Later in that small room in A&E, the stroke nurse, Linda, was equally brilliant, sensitive to the anxieties of my mother as to the needs of my father, lying semi-paralysed, his eyes begging my mother to do something to make it all better, to make him able to form words once more. Linda involved us in everything she was doing for my father, explaining why and what would happen next.
This gentle caring mixed with ultimate efficiency and professionalism continued with the A&E consultant explaining the process of a stroke, what tests my father would have and what would happen in the hospital, then the medical doctor who, with gentle touches to my mother’s shoulders and genuine concern, taking time to check she was OK.
Purposefulness shines through in all areas of the hospital now. The confidence and quiet support they gave us in one of life’s most stressful, confusing and frightening situations was incredible.
Their ultimate priority is the welfare of the patient but, at every turn, they were sensitive to the fears and distress of my mother and diligent in trying to answer the many questions we had.
Like in any national organisation, there are bound to be blips and weak spots. Under-funding is never going to go away.
Perhaps we hit lucky but, hand on heart, nothing was short of faultless and inspring throughout, exuding excellence which is all you could want in a local hospital. Facilities, buildings and equipment aside, it’s the people that make a hospital and, so far, the people we have come across during my father’s care have been outstanding, patient and patient-family-focused.
On the stroke ward, the theme of excellence has continued.
These haven’t been people going through the motions of a job. These weren’t people ticking boxes. These were consummate professionals who really care, think about their patients and their families and are deadset on not just fulfilling their clinical role but being good people with compassion and empathy for everyone they deal with.
Every day, we read about our NHS – our National Horror Story – and how it has let people down.
It might be beleaguered, it might creak here and there, and be under increasing pressure to embrace the private sector. Services are being cut and there is widespread worry about its future. But, as a family who has had more than our money’s worth out of the NHS in the last few years – my father’s hip replacement revision in May, my mother’s nose operation later and my post-thyroid cancer, free thyroxine prescriptions and annual oncology checks – it is a wonderful institution.
Professor Stephen Hawking stands up for the NHS in a new documentary saying that, having been diagnosed with motor neurone disease at 21, he would not have survived without the care he has received from the health service, which he describes as “Britain’s finest public service.”
Our family couldn’t agree more and, as we embark on our long uncertain journey willing my father to regain some of his lost self and placing our trust in the professionals to do all they can to bring him back so he can once more chat cricket and football with my sons, Skype with his tiny granddaughters in New Zealand and argue about trivia with my mother, we are valuing our finest public service more than ever.
Long live the NHS.