Since lockdown began at the end of March, Thursday evenings have been heralded by people standing on their doorsteps and taking part in the weekly Clap for Carers. Undoubtedly, all of our doctors and nurses deserve our praise for their work during this pandemic. I can’t help but be a little bit disheartened by the support though. These heroes go to work every day and save lives. So, why does it take a pandemic for that work to be recognised?
There are a few moments during my hospital stay that I remember as clear as day. Other moments appear in my memories as brief flashes of consciousness – usually filled with pain. The commonality between the whole experience though is the people. In every moment, there was a doctor, nurse or healthcare assistant smiling down at me. I was so delirious while I was at my most ill that I don’t remember half of their names. It feels like somewhat of a disrespect to them, but I suppose that’s the nature of their job sometimes. Being a hero to people so ill that the heroism goes unremembered.
A lot of the heroes who were with me whilst I was at my worst will remain unremembered, but the heroes I can remember really do deserve praise every second of every day. Not just during lockdown. I probably haven’t thanked them all nearly enough, so I’m going to take a minute to do that now.
Dr Sylvester: city centre GP
Firstly, Dr Sylvester. My GP, and one of the first people I talked to about my mental health problems. Despite the fact that he works in a busy city centre surgery, he called me every week during my mental health crisis to see how I was feeling. Since my surgery, he’s continued to be on standby for emergency appointments whenever I’ve had a relapse. Even if that’s meant seeing me long after he should have finished work for the day.
Maria: agency nurse
When I was in the second of three hospitals I visited last January, I was looked after by an agency nurse called Maria. When her shifts were changed and she was moved to a different part of the ward, she still checked on me. She’d pop in to my room at least twice during her shifts to see how I was feeling. To her, looking after her patients wasn’t a job, she cared enough to check on me when she didn’t have to.
I arrived at Addenbrookes having been told I needed ear surgery. On arrival, a neurosurgeon called Tamara broke the news to me that the ear surgery was the least of my worries. As she told me I needed to have brain surgery, she kept calm and collected and made me feel as comfortable about the situation as possible. Not an easy feat at ten o’clock at night after a long shift. To add to the difficulty of her job, she came back to the hospital nine hours later to help save my life.
Sophie: healthcare assistant
Whilst Tamara was arriving at the hospital on the day of my surgery and getting ready with the rest of the neurosurgery team, I was still on the ward.
Waking up knowing you’re mere hours away from neurosurgery is a terrifying feeling that not many people have experienced. Working on a neurosurgical ward gives nurses and healthcare assistants an insight in to what their patients go through in the lead up to their surgery.
One healthcare assistant, Sophie, prepped me for surgery. She knew I was terrified. How else could she interpret the random bouts of crying as she got me ready? She didn’t let that change her cheery attitude though. She injected a little bit of happiness in to the worst morning of my life. For that, I’m forever grateful. Also, she gave me my first post surgery hair wash – a much needed luxury on my 28th day in hospital!
Christian, Tanya & Rob : OPAT team members
One of the conditions of my discharge was being able to administer my own intravenous antibiotics. You’ll all have to trust me when I tell you that it’s not an easy thing to learn. The OPAT team at Addenbrookes, headed up by Christian, Tanya & Rob, make the whole experience easy though. Tanya sat patiently at my bedside whilst I learnt how to administer my medication. For the rest of my treatment, Christian and Rob made the burden of long term treatment easier to bear. They made what could have been a real chore something that I vaguely enjoyed each week.
Dr Bance: Ear Nose and Throat consultant
Last but not least on my list of unsung heroes is ENT consultant Dr Bance. Him and his team have reconstructed my entire middle ear twice now. Whilst they’ve not had much luck and I’m currently using a hearing aid, the concept of reconstructing a structure as delicate as the ear is, quite frankly, incredible.
All of these stories are incredibly personal to me and, unless you’re a member of my family that lived the experiences with me, you probably can’t relate. The point is though, that there are thousands more unsung heroes in the NHS that save peoples lives every single day. Heroes aren’t just heroes during a pandemic. Now that the final clap for carers has happened, we need to do a better job of remembering that.
As always, I’m fundraising for Headway Oxfordshire. A charity who supports me and other brain injury survivors across Oxfordshire. I’d really appreciate any donation you can afford.