My apologies to all those who have been peeping in to see whether I’ve posted anything new, and have been disappointed. My lengthy silence has been due to a bout of diverticulitis, which laid me low over the last month, and is still not quite over. I feel a little frayed around the edges, rather like this rose.
As luck would have it – serendipity or divine providence? – my hospitalisation coincided with my daughter’s visit, so she was able to chauffeur me around and take care of my mother while I was incapacitated, and as my granddaughter has just moved to the UK and is only 3 hours away by train and bus, she was available to take over when my daughter had to return to Switzerland.
I am a firm believer in divine providence, backed up by empirical evidence throughout my life. Someone is definitely watching out for me, though there have been times when I imagine my guardian angels have been working overtime. The timing in these last few weeks was incredible, and I am extremely grateful that everything could continue smoothly at home with barely any disruption.
It’s a long time since I was in an English hospital: about 50 years, I think, and in those days patients lay tucked up neatly like parcels in long rows of beds, maybe 20 or more to a ward, and stiffly starched nurses swept by administering medication at regular intervals, severely supervised by a fearsome matron.
That is no longer the case, of course. There were four of us in our bay, and united in our suffering we grew far closer in the five days I was there than I would have believed possible, exchanging quite intimate details. I shall probably never see those three women again, but we have definitely left a mark on one another’s lives.
What really impressed me – apart from the unwieldy, cumbersome nature of the NHS systems, which surely could somehow be streamlined into greater efficiency – was the truly compassionate, caring attitude of the nursing and medical staff. Bogged down by paperwork, yes, but always concerned for the individual and never short of a kind word, encouragement and friendliness. And, of course, being British, that never-failing humour and banter that underlies everything, however serious it may be. Good-humoured, cheery chat among everyone who came onto the ward, from the domestic staff (a female Laurel and Hardy act) to the health practitioners and consultants with their retinue who sweep regally through the ranks every morning between 8 and 9 am.
Over the years I’ve been in German and Swiss hospitals, which are models of Teutonic efficiency, as would be expected, and have had wonderfully kind nurses and doctors tending me there. However, the difference between the formal and informal form of address in languages like French, German and Italian creates a barrier that doesn’t exist in English. Patients and nurses are on first name terms here, which makes for a closer relationship, enhanced in this part of the world by the ease with which people address one another as “love”, “lovey”, “darling”, “sweetheart”, “pet”, “babe”, and all the other terms of endearment I have already commented on. “Good morning, beautiful!” with a warm smile when you are feeling at death’s door sweetens the taste of the medication. Nothing disrespectful whatsoever in this, simply genuine expressions of care and concern.
Two other things impressed me, both related to the ethnic variety of this town, which is also reflected in the multi-racial hospital staff. The first was the menu, which covered not only a choice of 11 main courses in the British tradition for lunch and 8 for supper, but also several vegetarian courses, soups, sandwiches and salads, as well as 6 Caribbean meals, 5 Halal dishes, 6 vegetarian curries, 6 Chinese dishes, 8 side dishes and 4 side orders, and 9 different desserts. Had I not had a drainage tube down my nose into my stomach, I would have enjoyed sampling these. As it was, I wasn’t allowed any solid food until my last day, when I had a delicious chicken soup for lunch and mashed potato for supper. If the quality matches the variety, it might almost make a stay in hospital a pleasure!
The other thing that impressed me was the hospital chapel. After my chicken soup I was sent for a walk to aid my digestion. The hospital is a labyrinth, so in order not to get lost I just walked in a straight line. This brought me to the chapel, which is shared by several faiths who all appear to co-exist in peace and harmony, judging by the photo of the chaplains hanging by the door. It has a protestant altar and a Roman Catholic altar, but there is also a smiling statue of Buddha and a Hindu altar. The bookshelves hold various translations of the Bible and the Quran. The Roman Catholic side chapel can be curtained off and a notice says that this area may be used by Muslim women for their prayers. I offered my thanks at the Cross, and as I turned I found a Muslim man quietly moving some of the chairs so that he could lay his prayer mat facing Mecca. Interestingly, as the Christian altar is also in the east, that meant that he, too, was praying at the foot of the Christian cross.
I’m not entirely sure how this kind of ecumenical cooperation works but there was a very deep sense of peace and reverence in this little room. Serendipity or divine providence?