70 Stories: The NHS – a rich part of our heritage

This has been inspired by the work of the medical staff at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital – in particular, the ICU staff.

People are quick to knock it; they would throw a grenade given half the chance and watch it explode – figuratively, of course. Cliché, perhaps, but people often like to jump on the band wagon, moaning about appointment waiting times, interminable ‘Please hold’ messages at the local GP surgery and the shortage of medical staff. Yes, they are frustrating problems but our NHS is something to behold and for this we should be proud.

Last December, my father died after a relatively short illness. Following an ongoing chest infection and, it later materialised, kidney failure, he went from being chatty and animated, ringing to announce being discharged the next day, to deteriorating quickly and passing away within less than 3 days. It was shocking, and of course sad, but at no point could I, or other members of my family, question the care provided by the Intensive Care unit at the hospital he was in.

For those who don’t know, ICUs are quite different to regular wards – there’s an air of seriousness and of close attention. There are lots of tubes, frequent checks, more stringent guidelines on bed visitor numbers. For the last few days of my father’s life, he was barely conscious. Nurses filled out charts, archaic paper ones, and on flickering computer screens. Physiotherapists worked tirelessly to try and clear the chest congestion – my dad wasn’t a small man and even though he made it quite awkward with flailing arms and unpredictable movements, they didn’t relent. All the doctors were polite and professional; any ‘bad news’ was communicated privately, with care and compassion. 

On my dad’s final day of life, the nurse who turned off his life-support showed such empathy and emotion that it made the harrowing experience much more bearable. It is the kindness of this nurse, and of the other staff on the ward, that makes the NHS. We take it for granted. It’s moaned about, criticised and belittled. It is there regardless of the cause of its need, whether it is self-inflicted or a terrible tragedy beyond anyone’s control.

The NHS: it’s a major cog in the wheel that makes Britain the great country that it is. I believe that the experience I have had, albeit being sad, has helped me with my creativity. I would not have been able to write this piece earlier in the year – it was too raw then – but I am a great believer in taking the rough with the smooth and experiences can definitely help with producing something creative. Okay, this isn’t a story, or a poem, but it is a candid account how I was helped with my own creativity.

Matthew Tett

70 Stories for 70 Years

These stories represent personal experiences of the impact of creativity, culture and the arts on health and wellbeing. They have been collected by the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance (CHWA) to celebrate the 70thAnniversary of the NHS in 2018.

If you have a story you would like to share, please do get in contact at info@culturehealthandwellbeing.org.uk.

We are publishing these stories as a collection on the new CHWA website, and will be promoting them using social media from the end of 2018 leading up to the first CHWA Annual Conference in March 2019.