Two and a half years ago my mum was taken into hospital because she was repeatedly vomiting and losing weight drastically. It turned out she had a large abdominal aortic aneurism which was blocking her small intestine. She was in hospital for a worrying 3 months, from November 2017 to February 2018. The care she received at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and Royal Preston Hospital was amazing, from all the staff who looked after her, despite being under tremendous pressure due to staff and equipment shortages. Morale was low but their dedication and care were as good as ever. Mum needed surgery to bypass her blocked duodenum, but it was very risky because of the closeness, not to mention the size, of the aneurism. However, a surgeon agreed to perform the operation, as her life was at risk from dehydration from the constant vomiting.
The emotions during this time were intense; fear, anxiety, hope, dread, love, anger. And that’s just my emotions, I can’t begin to imagine what my mum was feeling. The day of surgery was surreal, we said goodbye as she was taken to theatre, and I honestly did not know if I would see her alive again. I think my mum felt the same, but she is incredibly strong and literally put her life into the hands of the hospital staff. That was the first occasion during this hospital stay that I went to sleep wondering whether she would make it through the night. Two days later, she needed another operation because there was still a blockage, and once again we watched her go to theatre not knowing whether we would see her again.
The third time was when she developed sepsis and her body basically shut down one afternoon. My dad and I left the hospital around 8pm, after having a discussion with the staff looking after her. There was an understanding that they had done all they could, and it was now a waiting game; she would pull through or she wouldn’t. Having seemed completely ‘out of it’, unresponsive and terribly weak when we left her, she texted my dad that night around 11pm, saying ‘why didn’t you say goodbye.’ More emotions came flooding in; relief, disbelief, shock, love, pride, admiration., gratitude. She finally came home and we were all relieved, humbled and incredibly grateful.
Now in May 2020, at 81 years old, my mum is as cheerful as ever. Her resilience and strength never cease to amaze me. As I write this, we are in the middle of the Corona Virus pandemic and 8 weeks into lockdown. My mum has had two hip replacements, and sadly, one of her hips has a tendency to dislocate. Four weeks ago she slipped out of bed and dislocated her hip. An ambulance came within minutes and took her, alone, to hospital. My dad found this incredibly difficult. After 61 years of marriage, they have always done everything together; now he couldn’t go with her in the ambulance and had to wait anxiously at home. Once again, despite the intensely difficult pressures on the NHS, the staff looked after wonderfully. Once they had realigned her hip, she was pain free and ready to come home.
That was a Sunday four weeks ago. The following Sunday Mum was beginning to sew her first set of scrubs for Blackpool Victoria hospital! I am part of a team of volunteers cutting and sewing scrubs for the NHS. I owe my love of sewing, among many things, to my mum. She taught me to sew on a Singer treadle sewing machine, as her mum had taught her; on the same machine. This week, mum took a trip to Fleetwood Same Day Surgery Centre with a swollen wrist. The nurse asked whether mum had been gardening. Mum assured the nurse that she hadn’t and after some thought, added that she had been doing a lot of sewing lately. The nurse was shocked and touched to hear that my mum had been sewing scrubs for our hospital. She bandaged her wrist and mum went back to her sewing.
So, I am aware that some people are suggesting that we shouldn’t clap for carers but demand more PPE. I have family members who work in the NHS and feel this way, and I support them. All caring and key worker staff should have the equipment they need. However, I am also compelled to show my thanks and appreciation for the people who are putting their own lives and their families’ lives at risk in order to save as many people as they can.
When I go outside and clap on a Thursday I am expressing my deep gratitude for everyone who is working in incredibly difficult circumstances to help fellow human beings.
Nicola Thompson May 2020