The last place anyone wants to be when they're ill is in hospital. There's a bunch of ill people there. Including, but not limited, at this present moment, to my own father, who is currently experiencing the rather strange phenomenon of having lost his sense of balance almost altogether, a result of a complicated ear infection that has migrated into places it could really have done without being. To see anyone struck down by an illness is difficult, but especially one who has always previously looked healthy and been in more-or-less full control of his faculties. It's only six months previously that he came flying off his granddaughter's pogo stick in the park, got up, dusted himself off, and carried on playing. And he himself is at least in part troubled by that difference, not used to being needy.
Well, that's fair enough, and something that a lot of people are forced to contemplate whether in their relative old age, or younger. Being a burden is hard on the person who is a burden, regardless of its effect on the bearers of that burden. My experience of the healthcare system and the people who choose to work in it has been positive, almost without exception: those people don't arrive at work of a morning (or indeed in the middle of the night) hoping that folk will leave them alone and not bring their problems. It's the exact opposite. The problems are there, and the people who staff the NHS are there to help with those problems, whatever they are and in most cases however they came about. The system is troubled by the almost incredible weight of all the problems we, the public, roll up exhibiting, and the expectation of people (such as my own mother) who carry with them the idea that if they could just get the diagnosis right and choose the right treatment, everything will be back to normal after a short time. That's a learning process, recognising that medicine is an art as well as a science, and that skilled professionals don't always know the exact answers.
The Northern General is, as I have had the 'pleasure' to write before, a great and terrible place. You don't want to have to go there, but you know that it's there, and that if you do go there, they'll look after you. The Hallamshire is, likewise, a great and terrible place, but for one reason or another, it just isn't quite so awful. The general idea seems to be that you go to the NG, and if you're lucky, they get rid of you and you get better in the RH. There's a curious carnival atmosphere when you're tied to these places, whether as a patient or a visitor. That out-of-the-ordinary pattern, of committing days or evenings to visiting, of being away from home, of spending time with a sick person who might not be up to much conversationally, of trying to find entertaining small talk that skirts the big issue... It's all part of those life experiences that shape who you are, but those experiences are not ones that you enjoy at the time. There's a wonderful atmosphere of care, of love, of hope in those places. But there's also fear, of loss, of decrepitude, of dying. Because everyone dies of something, and at that point, you're likely to experience the hospitals.
So my heart - whatever that means - goes out to those people who choose to work in those environments. There'll be days when patients die, despite your best efforts, and other days when they get better without there being an obvious reason for it. Those people who work in those environments where it is inevitable that there will be heartbreaking, devastating days. The world needs them, and the rest of the world owes them a respect that is not always shown. Let's hope that politics does not end up making their lives more difficult than they need to be.
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought