Not a good week for the health service last week. We learned that C-Diff continues to afflict our wards and that 10 people per week in the UK are dying because of complications caused by hospital acquired infection. The ambulance service has changed its procedures following the revelations of people falsifying response times. And a report alleges that poor communication between doctors and midwives is potentially leading to deaths in our maternity units. You’d be forgiven for thinking that our health service is in meltdown.
Thankfully though there is another story to tell. Countless stories in fact, of wonderful skill, ingenuity and care exercised by individuals within the system. Let me tell you briefly the story of one of my afternoons last week.
I had occasion to sit in the waiting room of a cardiac unit in one of our big hospitals. There I saw: very frail, older men, heads tilted to the left accompanied by equally frail wives or attentive but impatient daughters. Men fingering their car keys like a holy relic, as if petitioning some saint to deliver them from the ordeal. Young men wearing sports clothing in a vain effort to tell the world they weren’t really ill. Behind a desk, hastily dropped on a corner, sat a harassed administrator, whose job it was to receive these worried people for their appointments, offer a smile and a seat, whilst all the time under threat of being buried under an avalanche of paper.
Around and among them buzzed the medical staff, eyes constantly moving, arms full of files. While surgeons and consultants glided serenely among the pressing throng which waited to touch the hem of a garment. Then a round, cheeky-faced older woman with snow-like hair, belied the sobriety of the place and skipped aboard the weighing scales while the nurse, smiling, translated the kilos into pounds and stones, and the mood lifted for a moment.
Serious people in a serious place offering countless small acts of grace to keep chaos at bay.
I say thank God for the health service, and for those of you who work there. And I pray that today your lists will seem manageable. That God will guide your hand skilfully and gently to heal. That men, women and children this week will have cause to thank God for you. That the comfort you offer the dying will sustain them.
Because these little moves against destruction that you perform each day, mean a whole lot. We just don’t tell you often enough.
One final story to conclude. Last week, a man blinded by an industrial accident had his sight returned by the transplantation of one of his teeth into his eye socket. I’m still not sure I believe the brilliance but it puts a whole new spin on giving your eye teeth.
First Broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster Thought for the Day, 03 March 2008