Blue shoes. Size seven loafers, if we’re to be exact.
As she gifted them to me, it was with the comment that ‘her feet’ were ‘too wide’ for them, yet another hint at her low self-esteem.
Later, gazing across at the nurse washing down her empty bed, and then back at those blue shoes now left abandoned on mine, there was the sense that they had become a symbol, the solitary remains of her journey, her long journey, through this hospital.
I’ve been in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary! The picture of the bird’s a clue, in fact the actual view from my bed. You see, instead of that nice wee weekend we had planned, and another week back at school, we ended up with a dose of sudden, and I do have to say, excruciating pain, an unexpected diagnosis of acute pancreatitis (Can I just declare now I don’t drink!), and hey ho, the next moment, I’m in theatre and my gallbladder’s being whipped out! Normally, I’m a 3 days off work in 16 years kind of girl, who has to be force fed even a paracetamol, so between this and losing an election, it’s been, well, let’s be honest…a bummer of a year!
But I’m out now, and compos mentis enough to decide that this whole experience merited a wee blog. If you know me, you’ll understand the challenge of seven days in a bed and a gentle recovery period! At least doing this, the fingers can move quickly.
Dr Deans and his team, oh how that rhymes! I wanted firstly to share my thoughts on the medical staff, of how absolutely wonderful they were. Having only ever stayed in hospital to off load two sons, and that being a fair time ago, I’m not sure what I expected. Whatever, between the regular bedside visits by the consultant and his medical entourage (Seriously, imagine a Nicola visit swooping in!) to update on tests and discuss treatment, and the non-stop activity of nurses and doctors as they worked hard for all patients…I thought the quality of care nothing less than exceptional.
It was the warmth though that most impressed. In the busy environment of fast patient turnaround, constant buzzers and patient needs, and where staff breakfast became lunch, if any break at all, I was touched at how warmly the nurses responded to each patient, to each and every request. Whatever the time, night or day, nothing was too much, and it was clear they didn’t just see medical conditions before them, they saw people – all people. Maybe it was the drugs taking effect, but their warmth left me a little emotional and with the thought, how better would our society be if we could all show a little more of that out there?
The thing about being stuck in a hospital bed is that you get to know all sorts of folk fairly well in a short space of time. Let’s face it, one day lying in there equates to about one week out there, so six days, well…you get to hear a fair few stories. Being that bit vulnerable too means that folk are prone to lowering their personal guards and suddenly, you’re left sharing in an open and honest way.
Being a bit of a people lover, and despite feeling a tad crap, this was one of the good bits of the whole hospital experience for me. The privilege of being allowed to meet so many beautiful people and hear their beautiful stories, all under one roof. Usually it involves chapping a good few doors!
Pancreatitis I have to say, is a bit of a bad one, but the gallbladder op itself is pretty routine. All in all though, in there, I was a small fish. I had experienced good health in life, and I’d be in and out fairly quickly and on the road to recovery.
Not everyone shared that experience. The medical conditions were as diverse as the backgrounds involved. Yes, there were pancreatitis and gallbladders like me, but also appendicitis, perforated ulcers, jaundice, pancreatic tumours, and sadly, those for whom there would be no operation at all. But whatever the story, folks from diverse walks of life shared the same floor, and received the same, free and equal quality of care. In a nutshell…the sheer beauty of our NHS!
And then the lady with the blue shoes, meeting her touched me the most.
Her story spoke of an injustice that made me angry, and a sadness and unfairness that just shouldn’t be. Others outside had ignored her, abused her, but the NHS had saved her – and those blue shoes equally joined the red shoes, the yellow shoes, the green…
When she left, it was to begin again, to start a new and fresh life. Without that care, there would have been no such opportunity. And as she left, I wanted to stand on my bed and cry, ‘Go strong woman, go!’
I’ve stood on many a political street stall, and at many a door, and shouted loudly about protecting our NHS. But this personal experience leaves me shouting more. Who would not want to protect it from privatisation? Who would not want to keep it public and free to all? As a nurse and I conversed one evening, the beauty of it is the fact that even a homeless person can just walk in off the street and be afforded that equal high quality care and dignity. Their shoes joining the other shoes in a journey across the hospital floor.
So, let’s fight to keep it this way in our quest for a more compassionate Scotland. Let’s make it the best it can be. We’re heading on the right track. The Scottish Government are committed to a total budget rise of £2bn by the end of this parliament, and other actions include recent funding for elective centres and for training more practitioner nurses and GPs. But there is much more yet to do.
For me though, it will always be the memory of the blue shoes….