In these troubled times it is very easy to forget there is so much good being done in the world. It is a spiritual truth that light conquers dark and that love triumphs over evil, but sometimes we need reminding of that. Stephen and I had our opportunity to experience an immense and humbling amount of good when we attended the NHS Pride Awards at Poole Lighthouse on Thursday night.
It all started because I filled out a form way back in July, nominating my lovely consultant Dr Joe Chacko for the Unsung Hero Award at Bournemouth Hospital. Filled it in, posted it off, promptly forgot about it – you know the kind of thing. I wasn’t even really aware of what it was, I just knew I wanted Joe to win it for services well beyond his job description. The weeks rolled by, then completely out of the blue I had a phone call from Joanne Faithful in the Communications department of the hospital to say that Joe was through to the final, and that we were invited to a gala dinner for the announcement of the winner. Like an excited puppy I went in for them to film me saying why I had nominated him, and the whole department was a-buzz with excitement. And at this point it was all secret squirrel – none of the finalists had been told. Joe would only find out when a film crew turned up to film him doing what he does best – which is talking to patients and easing them into, through, and out the other side of their chemotherapy. Not an easy task, and I wondered how it would come across. I also squirmed a bit as he seems to be quite a private person and I wasn’t sure how this whole very public display of appreciation would be received.
As the date drew closer we got to hear that a couple of people we knew were going, which was very heartening. I do get kind of worried by these events, especially when I have no idea how it is all going to work out. That would be the control-freaky side of me peeping out then. I had a FB message from our old neighbour Abi, who is on the management team at the hospital, to say that she had seen my name on the guest list and would look out for us. Goody. One familiar face apart from Joe and Communications Jo. Then our keep fit teacher, Trudy, who is a PA to the management team told us she’d managed to bag a ticket. Yay! Four friendly faces! Assuming Joe was still talking to me of course. So we pitched up in our posh togs to what turned out to be a highly prestigious event where we knew four out of, oh, about 520 people. We needn’t have worried though as we were greeted by Communications Jo, who led us towards where the bubbly was being served, where we encountered Trudy, who was talking to the host for the evening, Steve Power from Wave 105, which is our local radio station. Are you keeping up?
You know how it feels when you are in a room full of people and you don’t know any of them? A bit like one of those nightmares when everyone else is dressed up and you’re in your nightie. Maybe it’s just me then. Anyway, Trudy and Steve turned out to be our calm port in the storm, because more and more people were arriving and it was getting very boisterous. Whole groups of people seemed to know each other and there was lots of squealing and jumping up and down and hugging amongst the girlies, whilst the guys just tried to look cool and as if they did this stuff all the time. We learnt from Steve, who has graced this event for several years, that it has grown in size every year and the tickets for it are much coveted by the staff. There are ten awards, nine of which are nominations from within the hospital for members of their team; the odd one out was the Unsung Hero Award, which is a nomination by a member of the public for their hero on the staff. Aha. That’s why there weren’t many other people looking a bit lost – everyone else was part of the very wonderful NHS.
With another few minutes to go until dinner time, we got into a crazy conversation with Steve. He had been put up at a really nice hotel some ten miles away, whereas we had booked into the Holiday Inn Express which was a two minute stagger away. Stagger because I was wearing heels, which I never do. Just saying. I happened to mention that the lovely receptionist at the Holiday Inn had confirmed that yes, a cooked breakfast was included but it didn’t include bacon or hash browns. Steve looked puzzled. Whaaaat? How can a cooked breakfast – a traditional English cooked breakfast – not include bacon, at the very least? He wondered whether this applied to just our particular Holiday Inn or whether it was a policy across all of them, and if so, why. Have you ever watched a breakfast show radio presenter work through a whole scene in his head? Me neither. A wide grin split his face, and he said, “Brilliant! I’ve got my whole theme for the show tomorrow morning. I’m going to get everyone calling in to tell me about their hotel breakfasts. This one can roll on for the whole show!” You had to be there. We love Wave 105 – who incidentally do masses of charity work in the area – but we don’t listen to Steve because he is on too early. I tried to get the show on catch-up on Friday morning just to hear how it went, but sadly failed. (Steve, if you read this, how can I get to listen to it?) What a guy. I think breakfast show presenters deserve an especially big shout because their private life is seriously affected by the hours. And to be hosting an awards ceremony until 11 when you have been up since god-knows-when and will be getting up at god-knows-when the next day is nothing short of heroic.
We hadn’t spotted Joe by the time we were called in for dinner, and I was beginning to get seriously worried. Our table was over in a darkish corner by the stage, and nobody else was there. I was just starting to feel seriously billy-no-mates when a hand landed on my shoulder and Joe and his lovely wife Beena appeared. Yay! He didn’t hate me :-) Then as if by a private signal, once Joe and Beena were ensconced some of the nurses from Wards 10 and 11 came over to say hello and we suddenly felt very warmly enfolded in the bosom of the NHS. It turned out that not only was Joe delighted to have been nominated, but his team were delighted for him too, as no-one else from their department had been nominated to date. I managed to have a really good conversation with Joe and his colleague Rachel (who had also come to say hello) about providing alternative therapies for cancer patients. See – willing (possibly trapped?) audience – it didn’t take me long to start flying the flag. The new Jigsaw wing at Bournemouth Hospital is purely for cancer care, and a room has been set aside for alternative therapies like reflexology and aromatherapy massage, which is a giant step forward. The sad thing is that it will stay empty as there is no funding available. Although it absolutely galls me to agree, in a time of extreme austerity when there aren’t enough nurses and budgets are being cut left, right and centre, the first thing to go is alternative care. And apparently it did exist previously, which is something I didn’t know. So rather than launch into a diatribe about why it isn’t considered a massively important part of patient care, I put my best foot forward and said that I would be really happy to go in and offer meditation and mindfulness sessions. Now, let’s be quite clear; I am very much at the beginner end of the spectrum when it comes to this stuff, but I know how much support it gave me during treatment, so if I can help anyone else to get a bit of peace and quiet and calmness amidst all the horror of chemotherapy, I will. For free, obviously. And I don’t know any other therapists, but I will make enquiries and see whether we can get that room utilised. I have the horrible feeling that if it isn’t, it will be assigned other duties.
The food and company were lovely, but once the awards ceremony started we got our big dose of humility, and an unexpected pride in a national institution which is so often devalued and attacked. The nominees came from many different areas within the hospital, but what united them was the passion and strength of the team who had nominated them, and the pride of the person who managed them. Without exception, the winner received huge applause and a lot of excited jumping up and down. In some cases the whole department appeared to go up on stage to receive the award and it all became a magnificent and very happy party, as good deeds were recognised and appreciated. Steve did a magnificent job of hosting it and at one point he was clearly touched. He said, “Listen people, I just play records on a radio station. You guys go out every day and make a difference.” Gulp.
By the time Joe’s award came along, Stephen and I were quite emotional and exceedingly proud to have been invited to share in this event. The competition in Joe’s category was fierce and it included Reverend Duncan Ridgeon, the assistant Chaplin, and Julie White, a bereavement midwife, both extremely demanding jobs – and it occurred to me that for all these people it isn’t a job. They aren’t doing any of this for the money (hollow laugh) they are doing it because they love it. It is their vocation and their life, and it shows. Sadly Joe didn’t win the award, but the massive applause that greeted the winner, the Reverend, showed it was a good and popular decision. Joe wasn’t the least bit bothered, and said he was delighted just to have been nominated. Aw.
A tired but happy Steve Power signed off and left us in the capable hands of On the Nash, a band completely made up of hospital employees. As I recall, the drummer was a pharmacist, bass guitar was a radiologist, lead guitar was one of the consultants and the vocalist worked in IT. They played for about an hour, joined on stage by some of their colleagues, and did a brilliant job of getting the party started. They were followed by the DJ who continued the groove. And my goodness, those people can party :-)
We staggered (the shoes, remember) back to the hotel around 11.30 and were just enjoying a quiet glass of wine in the bar when some of our fellow attendees arrived and insisted on plying us with more. It would have been churlish to refuse, besides which we really wanted to talk to them, so we stayed up a lot longer than anticipated and finally went to bed around 1.00. As did they, but the difference is that while we were planning a leisurely start to the day, at least a couple of them were going to be at work before 7.00, just a few short hours away. And probably for at least 12 hours.
I was very quiet and thoughtful all day Friday, and it wasn’t just due to the tiredness. I wanted to write a blog which would give you just a taste of what we experienced. The pride and joy felt by people who work hard and play hard in the knowledge that what they do, every day, is make a difference. We are humbled in the extreme.
And no, we never did find out why bacon and hash browns weren’t included.
Wishing you good health