Thursday, 23 October 2014

Fair enough.

Me interviewing a nurse. Honest, he is a nurse.

I climb into a taxi in Cambridge, having just interviewed some nurses for the film I'm making, on my way back to the station, and the person who commissioned the film is talking to me. Just her voice. No actual body. 

She says, it's all about transparency… measurably… what are we doing well? How do we know? 

Yep, I think, I have that recorded, at least one of my nurses said that, and much more besides. Phew. Thanks.

She's talking on BBC Five Live, the taxi driver is listening to it. But I very nearly met her in the flesh last week, we had a meeting in central London but then she had to go and see The Secretary of State instead at the last minute, about that strike, you may have read about it, I ended up meeting her second in command. Fair enough.

People ring in to the radio programme to talk about nursing. I want to join in. I want to say nurses are amazing. I want to say we should all re-train to be nurses because it's the best job in the world. 

This might be because I've just interviewed 12 of them, and a midwife, in the last week or so, for the narrative part of the film, all over the country, and they have been an inspiring, enthusiastic, smiling, upbeat bunch. There has been a lot of laughter along the way, and there have been tears. Both mine and theirs. 

And this is because in almost every case there's been a moment of interviewing gold: an anecdote that bubbled up from the depths that I wasn't expecting, that the nurse herself (or himself) didn't anticipate telling me. 

In these moments the room becomes hushed and I lean in, keeping that all-important eye-contact, nodding like fury so the story keeps flowing, without my own voice chipping in and spoiling it all...

A Polish health care worker who was homeless when he came to Britain and slept on a park bench. He told me how he felt when his baby was born, in the same hospital where he was compassionately tending to his patients several floors below, and when I asked, so what's the best thing about your job, then? a job he clearly loves, he said it is his patients and being indoors in the warm, with a roof over his head. That's also fair enough.

There was a nurse whose own mother died many years ago, of cancer, who told me her mother's last words to her were to be a good nurse, to care for people, to never lose her temper, and so to this day she never has. She lets off steam by quietly creeping away in times of stress and shouting at a wall.

And the nurse from Wolverhampton, with the teary eyes and the tissues, who welled up telling me about her elderly patients, explaining that she wanted to work in elderly care because she nursed her own grandmother when she was a child. 

Dynamite stuff. I just hope I can squeeze all the best heartfelt bits into the film without compromising the message.

And the interview days haven't passed without incident either. One lovely nurse had a car accident on her way to meet me in Leeds. She was shaken up, understandably, she needed to calm her nerves and drink a cup of tea, and then she did the interview nevertheless, like a trouper.

And the handsome male nurse who works in ICU (Intensive Care Unit to you and me). Tall, gorgeous arms like massive hams, dark hair, twinkly eyes, served as a medic in Afghanistan... He was late because his wallet was stolen out of his back pocket on the bus and he had to
 give chase.

"Gosh, how awful!" I said, "So did you manage to get it back?"

"Oh yeah," came the quiet reply.

That one really is fair enough, and yet another reason to love nurses.

Love E x


Friday, 10 October 2014

Let sleeping teens lie.

Could we be part of this study in which 33,000 teenagers are allowed a lie-in, please? Apparently, thousands of 14 - 16 year-olds are to be given the chance of a lie-in and later start to the school day to access the impact on their educational achievement.*

I’ve long thought that we drag children out of bed too early for school in this country, probably in all countries. We’re not all early birds. While small children routinely wake at the crack of dawn (in my experience) things change entirely the minute they hit puberty (in my experience), when suddenly you can no longer get them out of bed for love nor money, or even for a free go on Minecraft. Now I know this is because a teenager's circadian rhythm typically begins two hours after an adult's, which means we are waking them too early. 

I must suffer from arrested development then - a teenager in woman's body - not a morning person at all, never have been. No one on my side of the family is. My brother can sleep for Britain. My parents must be the only OAPs not to know what dawn looks like. 

When I was a teenager I got myself up early on a Saturday morning and a friend’s dad drove my friend and me to our 9.00 am pottery class at the local Art College (stop sniggering at the back, I was good at pottery), where I bought a Mars or a Marathon bar at the tuck shop for breakfast at break time (friend and I ran the tuck shop especially for this purpose), as my parents slept on in bed at home.

For modern parents, Husband and I included, weekends are just another morning when we must get up and run around making children breakfast and looking for items of clean sports kit. However many times I tell the boys not to ask me where things are before 9.00 am, they still do it and I find myself head first in a manky laundry bin looking for a crumpled P.E. top most weekday mornings, and quite a few weekend ones too. “Sort it all out the night before!” I yell at them. That’s what I did when I was a teenager. I had all my things laid out on the chair ready. I would PLAN what I was going to wear. I would PACK my bag in advance. I would even make my OWN packed-lunch the night BEFORE. All from the age of 11.

The boys stare at me blankly. These are very different times, molly-coddle-them-to-death-children-come-first-they-are-the-centre-of-our-universe times. It’s less a matter of children fitting in around the adults, as we did when I was young, and more a matter of are the little darlings okay? Have they got enough to eat? Are they warm enough? Do they need a lift? A jumper? A clean shirt? A new electric guitar because the old one isn’t good enough? They MUST have it all. NOW.

New electric guitar because the old one wasn't good enough.

Husband didn’t have this sort of childhood: he went to boarding school. Consequently he still rises at the break of day, every single day, thankful that he doesn’t have a layer of ice on his bedsheets and a prefect with a redhot poker standing over him. He's very alert in the morning. Preternaturally alert. He TALKS to me. I can’t tell you the number of times he's asked me questions about the day ahead as I stand in the shower lathering up my hair. I need to have the words DON’T SPEAK TO ME BEFORE NINE AM tattooed somewhere on my body to remind him. Full frontal.

Anyway, I don’t begrudge the boys all the mollycoddling, not really. I like spoiling them. I told them that the other day when we were all in the living room watching The Great British Bake Off together: “You boys are the best thing in my life,” I said, before realising I might be offending Husband and turning to add that I was including him in this. But there was no need to worry. He was fast asleep with his mouth open. He wakes up too early.

Love E x


*Research from The Guardian 09.09.14 - £700,000 project involving 106 schools and 32,000 teenagers lead by Dr Paul Kelley at Oxford University's Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Hospital appointment.

I’m in a hospital waiting room reading a book in which the character is sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, just one of life’s little coincidences, I suppose. This is the book…

I’m bang on time for my appointment. I am told there is only one person ahead of me in the queue. I will be next, the smiling nurse says. She is silver haired and solicitous.

I tell myself this is fine. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. I have my book and my laptop and plenty of cash to pay for the car park and the boys have a key to let themselves in at home, so let them take as long as they like - see if I care.

But the thing is I do care because the waiting area is packed and low-ceilinged and hot and after two chapters of my book, a trawl through my emails, and a time check - 40 minutes - I can feel impatience rising up in me like acid up a litmus strip.

There’s a crying toddler to my right and an elderly lady giving her companion a run-down of her current ailments behind. I don’t want to be here. I am not an ill person. I have no intention of being an ill person. I don’t want to be near any ill people: it might be contagious.

The nice nurse appears again, she’s very sorry but someone has had to go in before me even though it is not his turn, this is because he is a prisoner. 

I hadn’t noticed him before but now I see him to my left and I am not really sure how I missed him. He is shaven haired, tattooed, and shackled to a guard with a large pair of silver handcuffs.

I watch the duo shuffle awkwardly past me out of the waiting area, onwards and outwards to the sunny uplands of the doctor’s consulting room.

I briefly glimpse the doctor inside as his door opens and sharply closes again. The glimpse is just long enough to discern that he is young and tall and handsome and possibly slightly sweaty of forehead (well he would be, wouldn’t he?). These are all things I like in a doctor, bar the sweat - actually even including the sweat. 

I hope I get that doctor when it’s my turn, I think. But I don’t. Because after an hour has gone by, when I completely give in and go up to the desk and ask politely when I will be seen, I'm told this is the wrong clinic, that a mistake has been made, I should have been given an appointment for the allergy clinic, this is ENT, so sorry, you will have to come back another day.

And what do I then? What do I do with that bitter impatience? I say, okay, well, that’s quite annoying because I’ve just waited for ages and someone could have told me before but, you know, I know it’s not THEIR fault and, never mind, actually thank you for letting me know and, well…

Because above all I want to appear reasonable, likeable, healthy, something set apart from the sickness around me.

And then I walk out of the hospital building, past the infirm in the corridors, the children and babies and mothers and old folk and those wheeled around on gurnies or wheelchairs, right out of the main entrance, past the M&S where tired nurses and anxious relatives are buying biscuits and wine, past an open window from where a small child suddenly cries out, on without stopping to the car park and my car, where I fling open the door and dive into the driver’s seat and sit for a moment and think: I am so glad to be well, and free. 

Love E x