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Dear NHS: A Collection of Stories to Say Thank You / : , (by Adam Kay, 2020) -

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Dear NHS: A Collection of Stories to Say Thank You /  :  ,     (by Adam Kay, 2020) -

Dear NHS: A Collection of Stories to Say Thank You / : , (by Adam Kay, 2020) -

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Dear NHS: A Collection of Stories to Say Thank You / : , (by Adam Kay, 2020) -
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2020
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Adam Kay
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Caitlin Moran, Candice Carty-Williams, Ed Sheeran, Jack Whitehall, Joanna Lumley, Lee Child, Michael Palin, Paul McCartney, Renni Eddo-Lodge, Stanley Tucci, Stephen Fry
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upper-intermediate
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06:05:12
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56 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Dear NHS: A Collection of Stories to Say Thank You / : , :

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audiobook (MP3) .


: Dear NHS: A Collection of Stories to Say Thank You

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INTRODUCTION Im very proud to share with you Dear NHS: 100 Stories to Say Thank You. In the pages that follow, 109 well-known people recount their personal experiences of the health service. Yeah, about that. Its not a typo. One hundred and nine. Asking people to be involved was a bit like posting out invites to a wedding: you send a few too many because you assume therell be a bunch of people who cant make it. Well, practically everyone said yes and wed already announced the title.1 This is slightly embarrassing because my role as editor involved two simple tasks assembling 100 stories and writing 500 words of introduction (I went over on that one too). I didnt even have to edit out spelling mistakes the publishers did that for me.2 Unlike when my wedding proved more popular than expected, however, I couldnt just shove an extra table in the corner of the marquee for the least important guests. (Apologies to any of my family who read this.) My first thought was to play bouncer in a shit nightclub and do one-in-one-out, but that felt slightly unfair. Then I realised that if I could count both Hairy Bikers as one entry, I could attempt to persuade you that theres a pop group comprised of Ian Rankin, Emma Watson, Trevor McDonald, Lorraine Kelly, Joanna Lumley, Johnny Vegas and Malala.3 Instead, I approached it as I would a 4 a.m. kebab and just crammed the lot in. The fact that so many people said yes is simply testament to the love we all rightly have for the NHS: a love we inherit from our parents and which burns brighter with every hospital appointment. Whoever we are, however famous, weve all been touched by the health service and we all want to say thank you. Now more so than ever. The stories in this book arent just testimonials; they are memories relived, secrets shared; the comedies and tragedies of everyday life that we all recognise. Theyre by turns funny and heartbreaking, uplifting and moving, and all deeply personal and utterly heartfelt. They were also a stark reminder to me that they never teach you at medical school what to say when you see a famous patient. Is it more professional to pretend you dont recognise them or to gush that you simply loved them in that film? In my first year as a doctor, I found myself checking over a singer (A-list) who was on tour in this country and had a funny turn with no identifiable cause whatsoever, save for the enormous quantity of drugs he had just consumed (A-class). When I asked his occupation, he just raised an eyebrow at me that said, You know who I am.4 I still slightly regret not having my stethoscope signed. Anyway, as I read the star-studded submissions to this book, I couldnt help but put myself in the doctors shoes and wonder what the hell Id say as I, for example, extracted a hoover attachment from within Sue Perkins or deflated Louis Therouxs swollen testicle.5 It means a lot that youve bought a copy of this book. Im so grateful to you. As well as saying thank you in one hundred(ish) separate ways, Dear NHS also says thank you in a very practical way, by raising money for NHS Charities Together and The Lullaby Trust. Now that Captain Tom has set the fundraising bar fairly high, you might need to buy a few more copies, to be honest. Im also hugely grateful to every single contributor for their generosity not only in giving up time to write their chapters but for opening up so honestly about often deeply personal and painful matters. But most of all, Im grateful beyond words to the NHS. To all the doctors and nurses and midwives and paramedics and pharmacists and physios and OTs and ODPs and optometrists and carers and speech therapists and radiographers and cleaners and social workers and dieticians and health visitors and admin teams and district nurses and porters and podiatrists and managers and kitchen staff and healthcare assistants and ward clerks and biomedical scientists: thank you. The NHS is our single greatest achievement as a country, and the NHS is you. The 1.5 million people who go above and beyond the call of duty every single day. The ones who give us hope and make sure theres a tomorrow. 1.5 million people for whom the extra mile is the standard distance. Selflessly, generously putting others before yourselves. Youve been there for me so many times, youve saved the lives of many people I love and youve done the same for every single person reading this book. This is our way of saying thank you. Adam Kay 1 Ill probably tell you the people who said no if you buy me a drink. 2 Incidentally, the group of people who made the most spelling mistakes were the professional writers. Absolute shambles. 3 Tell me you wouldnt buy a ticket? 4 Itll cost you three drinks minimum to get this persons name. 5 Spoiler alert, sorry. GRAHAM NORTON I avoid the news. Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives. This is all I need to know. Anything else just increases the mysterious weight pressing against my chest. An unnamed dread, a sense of doom. Even the bright spring weather, normally so cheering and welcome, doesnt help. I feel as if we have laid out a beautifully prepared banquet but inadvertently used the wonky trestle table, the one that collapses if you put any weight on it. We are all staring helplessly at quivering jellies and glistening bowls of coronation chicken, hoping against hope that the table holds. I cant avoid the news. I wake to see a tweet from a nurse. She describes her day at work and how she had to hold up a phone to the ear of not one, not two, but four patients, so that their loved ones could say goodbye. I begin my day in tears. A virus so cruel that it doesnt just kill, but first finds brutal and unexpected ways of punishing people. No doctor, no nurse is trained for this. I find it impossible to imagine what it must be like for those working on the front line. Happily, my experience of hospitals, thus far, is very limited. Ive visited friends, of course, and surely in the thirty-six years Ive lived in this country I must have sat in an AandE department at some point, but I genuinely cant recall doing so. My only extended visit to hospital took place in the summer of 1998. There had been a party at my drama school in Swiss Cottage in North London. Afterwards, the drunk me had a choice: get a taxi home or walk and spend the taxi fare on fried chicken. Chicken won the day. I stumbled down the hill towards Kilburn and then headed across to Queens Park, where I had a flat. Licking my greasy fingers, I didnt notice the point at which I began to be followed. I was very close to home, on the street that edged the north side of the park, when I noticed a man walking on the pavement opposite me. He crossed the road and began walking in front of me. Suddenly he turned and seemed to be brandishing something. A bat, a bar? I wasnt sure. Turning to get away, I ran straight into his accomplice, who had been right behind me. I heard a strange hollow banging sound, like someone hitting a large plastic pipe. It was only afterwards I realised that was the sound of my skull being beaten. After I handed over my empty wallet, they made me lie on the ground as they emptied my rucksack. A dog-eared copy of The Winters Tale flopped in the gutter beside me. They ordered me to stay on the ground as they made their getaway. I heard their footsteps echo as they ran away through the deserted streets of Queens Park. As I waited for them to leave, I noticed a cut on my right hand. They must have had a knife. How strange that I hadnt noticed. Oh well, it was just a nick. I pushed myself off the ground to stand. Odd. It felt as if I was almost peeling my T-shirt off the pavement. I looked down to discover that I was covered in blood. I pulled my top away from my body and saw that I had a hole in my chest. Even in my drunken state I knew that this was serious. I collected my belongings and put them back in my bag, because it takes a moment to understand what matters. I felt very tired. I wanted to lie down. That would be a bad idea. I stumbled on, calling for help. The houses that lined the leafy street were in darkness. I rang a doorbell, but no one came. Back on the street I walked a little further and then, to my right, there was a light. An old man in a dressing gown stood framed in his front doorway. His wife was huddled behind him. I stood at their gate. Obviously an explanation was required. I lifted up my T-shirt and pointed at the open wound in my chest. Ive been stabbed. It had echoes of I am run through from Shakespeare or John Lennons Ive been shot. Something so obvious, but it still needs to be articulated because it is so surprising. I am not sure if the elderly couple said anything, but I felt I had been rescued. I walked down the tiled garden path and lay bleeding on their doormat. The man must have gone to phone an ambulance because I recall being left alone with the old lady. Weariness overtook me. All I wanted to do was sleep. No. That wasnt true. There was one more thing I needed. I looked up at the lady in her dressing gown and asked, Will you hold my hand? Clearly taken aback by the request, she hesitated, before kneeling down and taking my hand. She was the nurse in that tweet holding the phone up. The contact that meant I was not alone, at that moment when nobody should be alone. I was taken to the St Charles Hospital in Ladbroke Grove. It transpired that I had lost over half my blood. Even after I was informed of this, I still didnt fully understand the seriousness of the situation. I was still the boy in the street with a hole in his chest, stopping to gather up his books. It was only when a nurse asked me if I wanted the hospital to contact my parents that I got an inkling of how touch-and-go things were. I thought about her question. I didnt want to worry them unnecessarily, but equally I knew how annoyed theyd be if they didnt get to say goodbye, so I simply asked the nurse, Am I going to die? The long pause before she gave her uncertain response, No, made my flesh hug my bones. The recovery from a violent mugging takes a long time. Its not just physical, but also mental. Your lungs regain their strength long before you stop flinching when a stranger gets too close on the street. Oddly, the very existence of the NHS helps. My father would never have said such a thing, but he must have felt vindicated by what had happened. London was a very dangerous place and so of course I had been stabbed. He couldnt understand why I would stay in such a death trap. I was one of those farmers who continue to live and work on Mount Etna. What I found hard to explain to him was how my two-week stay in hospital hadnt made me more fearful about life, it had reassured me, made me feel safer. When I was a boy learning to ride a two-wheeler, I had been frightened and excited, but I knew that right by my side was my father waiting to catch me if I fell. That is living in the UK with the NHS. They are always there to catch us. As I write this, I have no idea how long our current situation will last, or what life will be like in the world that comes after this, but of one thing I am confident. We will gather together again, pass plates, break bread, raise glasses. The feast will still be there to be enjoyed, because, despite our fear and our doubts, the table will hold. LEE MACK You Can Leave Your Hat On Is it socially acceptable to leave your hat on when someone is sticking their finger up your bum? is a question all of us never ask ourselves on a daily basis. But its a question I once had to ask on a visit to an NHS doctor. This story starts many years ago when I was in the ITV Christmas panto with One Foot in the Graves Richard Wilson. We were having drinks in the pub after rehearsal and I noticed that every time it was Richards turn to go to the bar he would put a baseball cap on his head. Then, when he returned, he would take it off. He explained that the wearing of a hat was extremely effective for anonymity and the difference between people shouting his catchphrase at him and not. I told him I didnt believe it. He didnt laugh. Cut to many years later and I had now started appearing more on television myself, so I too had started getting recognised. Although I sometimes wonder if they were mixing me up with someone who had the catchphrase, How on earth do you get away with it, you chancer? Now, to be clear, my attitude towards being recognised has always been, on the whole, that its perfectly fine. Occasionally it can be a pain in the arse (well be getting to the NHS doctor bit in a moment), especially when, for the fiftieth time that week, somebody says, I thought you didnt go out, which is obviously a comment about my sitcom Not Going Out. In fact, if in 2006 I could have magically predicted the coronavirus lockdown fourteen years later and the following torrent of online jokes, perhaps Id never have called my sitcom Not Going Out in the first place. Because I dont consider myself household famous like, say, Piers Morgan, Simon Cowell or Dennis Nilsen, being recognised is not so regular an occurrence that I have strong feelings about it either way, but there are definitely times I want my anonymity. And for some reason, a hat is the most effective way of achieving that. I think its something to do with changing the shape of your face. Or perhaps its more to do with the fact that people are saying, A man wearing a fez in Tesco is very odd, so keep your distance, kids. And one of the times that sort of anonymity is important is when youre having your first prostate examination with an NHS doctor. I was going to see the doctor about an altogether different matter, although I cant remember what that was. And I honestly cant remember. I dont mean I do remember but I dont want to tell you because its embarrassing. Because of course, I am a stand-up comedian. And, as we all know, stand-up comedians would happily get erectile dysfunction if it meant they had something new to talk about at this years Edinburgh Fringe. Although I guess erectile dysfunction would be quite an ironic subject for stand-up. I was about to turn fifty and I kept being told that is the age when you need to ask the doctor to stick his finger up your bum and check for anything dodgy. They are not the exact words you use, and it is usually him that asks you, so probably best you dont walk in to the GPs surgery and quote that verbatim. At the very least, say hello first. So, I had decided that, while visiting the doctor for something that definitely wasnt erectile dysfunction, I was going to bring up the subject of the prostate exam. Sitting in a doctors waiting room is a perfect example of what I would class as anonymity important. The thought of other people thinking, Oh, its that bloke from Eight Out of Ten Ways to Mock the Week. I wonder what hes here for? I bet its a rash. Or erectile dysfunction. Have I perhaps mentioned erectile dysfunction too many times? Doth the lady protest too much? To be clear, I absolutely one hundred per cent promise I am not a lady with erectile dysfunction. I had to wait quite a time in that waiting room. The clues in the name, I guess. During this time, I started having the most intense internal debate in my head about what would happen once in the room with the doctor. What if the doctor said, Ill do the prostate examination right now? I was nervous; Id never had one before. And I would like to pretend that I am the kind of mature person who thinks, Its nothing to be embarrassed about. This is an important thing to do. But Im not that person. I am a person so incredibly immature that I have actually made a living out of it. So instead I got into a right tizz about the whole thing. And during this tizz (I have literally never used the word tizz in my life and I have now just used it three times in two sentences. I think it might be PTSD brought on by reliving the incident), I decided that, once in the room with the doctor, it was probably best that I leave my hat on in case the prostate examination happened. It seemed to make sense to me. If Richard Wilson felt it appropriate to keep his hat on to stay anonymous when buying a drink, then surely it was fair enough to keep my anonymity when somebody I have never met has a part of his anatomy in mine. But then the social etiquette pendulum started swinging massively. For anonymity reasons, the one time you definitely want to keep your hat on is when someone has his finger up your bum, but it can also be argued that the one time you should definitely take your hat off is when someone has his finger up your bum. If social etiquette forces you to remove your hat in a place of worship, then surely those rules apply to a prostate exam. I mean remove your hat, I dont mean you should never have a prostate exam in a place of worship. Although you shouldnt. I knew in my heart of hearts it wasnt a debate. Surely the right thing to do was hat off. Especially given it wasnt a baseball cap, which is a bit of headwear you see people wearing all the time. Mine was more of a fedora shape. And if you dont know your hats, then imagine a 1950s detective about to solve a case. Now imagine him with his trousers round his ankles and someone putting their finger up his bum. Of course, there was no guarantee that the hat would work. What if he did recognise me? That is then surely ten times worse. I imagined him sitting with his family over dinner saying, I had that bloke in today from Eight Out of Ten Ways to Mock the Week. Oh yeah, what was he like? He asked for a prostate examination and guess what? He left his bloody hat on! Wanker. Ive never liked him. So, what did I do? Well, Im afraid this story ends rather flatly. I did decide I would keep my hat on, but the prostate examination never happened. Well, not on that day anyway. When it did happen, to avoid the same internal debate, I decided not wear a hat at all. Which I know was the right thing to do, but also a bit of a shame. One of my comedy heroes is Stan Laurel. Part of me wanted to learn that thing that he used to be able to do, which was to make his hat rise up in the air slightly, seemingly on its own. If I could have done that at the exact moment the doctors finger went in, it would have been my greatest comedic achievement ever. See, I told you I was immature. DAME EMMA THOMPSON This is a memory of an NHS experience that I will never forget. It was the middle of the night and suddenly the light was on and my eighty-five-year-old mother, who suffers from Parkinsons, was standing in the doorway of our bedroom in her nightie, which was on back to front. Oh God, I thought. Shes died and has come to tell me herself. Which would have been typical and hard enough but no, she spoke. Gaias in hospital, she said. Gaia, our daughter, was eighteen at the time. Greg, my husband, who has the aural capacity of an anxious bat, leapt from the bed naked to grab his clothes. My mother shrieked at the sight of his flailing gonads approaching at speed. I too leapt from the bed and fell over my clothes, bashing my head on the wardrobe door, which I had ill-advisedly left open. It was suddenly a scene from a Brian Rix farce but performed in an experimental style by French actors. We put my mum, still trembling, back to bed and drove at an illegal speed to the Whittington Hospital in Archway, London. The AandE was quiet, no one was screaming and there was no blood on the floor. Our daughter was sitting in bed surrounded by five girls all laughing like drains. She informed us with great brio and apparently no pain that she had slipped over at a friends party and opened her head on a sharp bit of tile. The junior doctor in charge was very young and very kind. Gaia told me that when she arrived, brought in by my friend whose sons party was still in progress, the doctor had very apologetically asked if it was all right if he just quickly went to eat something as he was too hungry to concentrate. But by the time we had arrived, he was back from swallowing a sandwich and very quick to do what was necessary. He injected Gaia with a local anaesthetic and allowed me to hold the pieces of skin together while he stitched her up. Gaia was immensely cheerful probably owing to the alcohol that had led to the fall in the first place. Ill never forget that doctor his kindness, his patient care and, most of all, his infinite fatigue. I thought, this is all wrong. People doing this kind of vital work shouldnt have to be at it so long that they get this tired and too overworked to eat. Why do we do this to our doctors and our nurses? In the AandE there was also a man of about fifty who too had hurt his head. He was very anxious about his mother he was her principal carer and had no one to turn to in his hour of need. We offered to help but there was nothing we could do, he said. He just needed to get treatment and get back to her as soon as he could. There would certainly be no one but the NHS to look after him. Youve heard of The Untouchables. Youve heard of The Expendables. That doctor, that hurt carer, belong to The Indispensables. Right now it is no exaggeration to say that they are the only ones standing between us and complete calamity. Who else, doing what job and in what capacity, can make that claim? Four weeks into lockdown and Ive listened daily to the stories of heroism and sacrifice and unimaginable loss that occur every moment of every day and every night within the NHS and in hospices and care homes and ordinary homes. I marvel at the courage; I weep for the losses and I know that after this we will never be the same again. At least, I hope we wont. I hope we will realise what is important: not profit but people. I hope that every priority we have had to accept as normal changes and that we find our way towards a society that cares first and foremost about its indispensable workers. First of all, lets stop pretending that theres no need to pay them generously because caring professions are vocational. We can clap and we can whoop and holler our gratitude from the rooftops, and we should, and we do but after this we all have to insist that whatever government is in place takes immediate action to recognise The Indispensables by raising their wages. By listening to what has been and is being learned, and what we now know is essential to have in place for the next time this happens which, the science seems to suggest, is inevitable. Our NHS was created after a great crisis a world war. After this crisis must come a great and deep reckoning: who and what do we really value and how do we protect, nurture and support them. LOUIS THEROUX My Testicle It was late 2015. Id recently completed a film about the mysterious and secretive and supposedly highly litigious religion of Scientology. But the film did not yet have a distributor. In order to drum up interest, we had shown it at the London Film Festival. Id done my best to support the premiere by doing interviews, and writing articles, and sending tweets. One evening, a message came in from Simon, the films producer. Something in his tone made me think it was ominous and I called back, after the kids supper, from the quiet retreat of our top-floor bedroom, to hear him explain that hed had a letter from lawyers acting for the leader of Scientology, David Miscavige. He said: Apparently you sent a tweet that they consider libellous and they are threatening legal action. Oh dear, I said. Yeah. Thats not good, is it? No. Sorry. This was said in a manner so heartfelt and final that it suggested not just that the threat really was serious, but also that there wasnt much he would be able to offer in the way of help. It was my Twitter account and if I was going to use it to libel vengeful high-profile figures, that was on me. He ended by suggesting I call Nigel, the media lawyer whod worked on the movie, which I did. He also forwarded me the letter. It quoted from a tweet or rather a retweet, since the words had auto-generated when Id clicked on a button to share an article that said, and I quote, David Miscavige is a terrorist. Yeah. That wasnt good. I recalled tweeting the article Id had some misgivings on account of its overheated content and had wondered about erasing it, but a publicist wed retained had suggested I didnt, since apparently that was seen in PR circles as a sign of weakness and would probably only bring more attention. What I didnt recall and didnt think Id ever actually read was the wording of the tweet itself. David Miscavige is a terrorist. I pondered all this a little ruefully, then called my agent. In a tone not dissimilar to Simons, she said, David Miscavige may be a lot of things but he aint a terrorist. But what do I do? You need to get a good lawyer and get ready to spend a lot of money. Because Im telling you now, this could be very expensive. A day or two later, another letter arrived from the lawyers acting for Miscavige, filled with more legal sabre-rattling and shield-clanking false, outrageous, defamatory and a demand for an apology. This I might have thought about providing given that I dont actually think David Miscavige is a terrorist except my lawyer warned that the apology would not forestall a claim of financial damages but, in fact, only make one more likely, possibly to the tune of ?100,000 or more. My lawyer advised me to instruct a high-powered QC. A name was suggested; Heather Rogers. She had once been part of the legal team defending the writer Deborah Lipstadt in her libel defence against the historian David Irving, whom she had labelled a Holocaust denier. There were meetings the QC was as impressive as Id expected and, as she did her preparation, read the letters, read my tweets, the articles, and viewed the film, and as the bills came in and money haemorrhaged out, I found myself mainly reassured by her level of competence and only slightly distraught at the strangeness of having to pay someone hundreds of pounds to watch a film youve made, as research. Around the same time, I was making trips up to MediaCity in Salford where I was appearing on a Christmas edition of the quiz show University Challenge. On the train, I would brood about my own stupidity at sending the tweet and the likelihood of it having catastrophic consequences. I looked up the meaning of terrorist. You could terrorise someone without doing them physical harm, I reasoned. Though, as the Scientology letters pointed out, my tweet had gone out not long after the Charlie Hebdo murders, so I was sort of suggesting that David Miscavige went round stabbing journalists, which he hasnt done as far as I know. I did a Twitter inventory to see how many of my followers were real people. It suggested Id only published the tweet to a million people, not 1.8 million. And in fact only a few thousand had probably seen it. I told this to Nigel, the lawyer. Yes, Im not sure how helpful that is for us, he said. The case motivated me to do well on University Challenge. I was getting a small fee for each appearance. If my team went all the way, Id only need another ?98,000 for the war chest, though, come to think of it, that wasnt counting legal fees. In the final I got on a hot streak, answering questions on Mad Men, Tennyson and Pope Linus I. We won. It improved my frame of mind for about fifteen minutes. Another legal letter came in from Miscaviges lawyers. We sent one back. Despite all the polysyllables and legal verbiage, it was, I realised, just a more sophisticated and more expensive version of two kids in a playground saying Come on then! If you want some! You and whose army! Hold me back! Hold me back! but neither of them really wanting to fight. Still, it was stressful and not helping my equanimity was the sudden onset of a debilitating pain in the groin and, after ignoring it for a couple of days and then finally checking myself manually and in the mirror, the realisation that one of my testicles had grown to roughly four times its normal size. I racked my brain as to what the possible cause might be. Ice skating with my wifes extended family in Tunbridge Wells? There had been a moment when Id slipped. Possibly one under-knacker had clacked violently against the other, like Newtons Balls, and the resulting force caused some kind of sprain? It was also true that I bicycled a lot to and from work. Presumably that causes some wear and tear on the undercarriage? The aetiology was obscure but what couldnt be denied was the constant throbbing pain. I said to my wife Nancy: One of my testicles is really swollen. Seriously. Look. Oh Jesus, stop it, she said. It was by now a couple of days after Christmas and we had plans to stay with friends in Norfolk. But we agreed I should probably get the testicle checked out while she began the holiday with children. They drove off and I made my way down to an urgent health clinic in west London. When I was seen, after forty-five minutes or so, the doctor was a young woman, who I had the vague impression might recognise me from television. I sighed inwardly. I went into her office, or her surgery, or her examining room and, having collected myself, I said: Somethings up with my testicles. The right one is swollen and painful. OK, she said, wed better take a look. My mind went back to a time years earlier when Id noticed I had an uncharacteristically itchy bum and Id gone to the doctor a man Id never seen before and asked him to take a look, and I had the strong impression he thought I was doing it for some weird sexual thrill, especially since he couldnt see anything wrong with my bum. On this occasion, with the testicle, I thought, at least its visibly swollen. There is definitely something wrong. I dropped my trousers, wishing I had worn a smarter pair of boxers. The doctor ran through the usual sorts of questions. Does it feel tender? When did you notice? Then felt it a little bit. Im not too sure, she said. There are two possible things it might be. The thing is, one is pretty straightforward and I can prescribe antibiotics, but the other is more serious and in some cases even fatal. Now, its not likely to be that but I wouldnt want to take any chances. She started making phone calls to various NHS personnel around London, specialising, I guess, in cobblers, and I could hear her being transferred from one department to another. She seemed to be going to a lot of trouble and the thought flashed through my mind that she was aware of the burden of being entrusted with the fate of the UKs premier purveyor of presenter-led documentaries about American subcultures or, more specifically, the fate of his testicle. This thought undoubtedly says more about my narcissism than anything real. A little later, I was sent on my way to St Marys Paddington. The hospital was busy. There was a wait of several hours. When I was finally seen, I explained the situation, only to be told there had been a mistake: the relevant department was actually at Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith. Evidently there had been a mix-up during the transferring of phone calls and I had ended up at the wrong place. By the time I arrived at Charing Cross Hospital it was dark. Id spent close to five or six hours waiting and going between medical buildings. This time I was seen quickly, though. It was a man. Do you mind if I get one of my students in here? he said. No, thats fine. I dropped my trousers again and the doctor peered at my swollen ball as the student looked on. Yep, Ive got the picture. Orchitis. Infection of the testicle. Could be an accident. Could even be something you ate. Course of antibiotics should sort that out in a few days. Then he added: Ive got to say, Im a big fan of your documentaries. That evening, I took the train to Norwich, where I joined Nancy and the boys, and the following morning I pushed the little one, Walter, in his pram around a hillside that overlooks the city, conscious of my testicle jostling in my trousers like a spiteful troll. The next night was New Years Eve. We visited my old friend Adam Buxton and his family at their converted farmhouse, staying up and toasting the year ahead, while I wondered inwardly whether Id be remortgaging the house and should I just apologise or did that, as the lawyers claimed, lay me open to massive damages. The next day we drove across to the eastern-most edge of Norfolk, to a little village called Sea Palling, whose buildings were mostly washed away in disastrous floods in 1953 that had killed seven people. Nancy and I and the boys whiled away the hours in an arcade filled with machines that cascaded two-penny pieces and spat out long snakes of tickets that you could trade for prizes and I tried to forget about the legal case. After a few days of antibiotics, the testicle returned to its accustomed size, presumably a little wistful about its brief visit to the big leagues. And, by a strange quirk of fate, the Miscavige infection went down a few weeks later finally succumbing to the weeks of high-dosage legal correspondence. Afterwards, along with the relief at the situation having gone away, I had the feeling of having been initiated, and that maybe this was the price of having been credited with more bravery than I deserved. Perhaps, on occasion, you had to weather misfortune that was undeserved or at least, unglamorous, unexciting and ten times more worrying than an angry glistening wrestler with nipples like rivets or an exasperated Klansman caught out with Nazi figurines. Other than occasional attempts to hack my emails, which may or may not have emanated from Scientology, or the News of the World, or a Russian troll farm, things went largely quiet. And Ive had no further issues with my balls. MALALA YOUSAFZAI At a time when I needed them most, the NHS saved my life. The doctors, nurses and staff helped me learn to walk and speak again. They gave me a future, as they are doing for so many others across the UK today. Every life they save is a gift to our families, and our communities. The NHS is fighting for our future and we have an obligation to make their fight worthwhile to raise children who care for their neighbours, to fight for truth and save more lives. Many people have said our world will never be the same after this pandemic. Thanks to the NHS, I hope it will be better. FRANK SKINNER I was in Cornwall on a yoga retreat. Yes, I know. It was a passing phase. I pretended it was an attempt to attain some deeper spirituality but, really, I just wanted a flat stomach. Not everyone who does yoga, of course, has such limited aspirations. Some want a nice arse as well. Anyway, my partner, Cath, and I endured the five-hour train journey, mats protruding from our knapsacks, and finally made it to our temporary om from home. We knew most of the people there. We took off our socks and joined in. On the second night, a Saturday, we decided to hold a mass chanting session at midnight. The start time seemed a tad theatrical to me, but by this stage I had almost completely committed to the vibe. The chanting was to take place in a studio-type building about thirty yards from the house we were sleeping in. I laid my mat in the studio at about 11.50 p.m. I always found, before any long-duration chanting, I needed a few minutes mumbling as a sort of a ramp. Also, Cath, emanating stress-spores as she frantically searched our room for a scrunchie, was undermining my equilibrium and I needed to get away. I reminded her, with some gravitas, about the significance of the midnight start, even though I wasnt quite sure what that significance actually was. She assured me that, even if she was slightly late, shed definitely be there for the chorus. At twelve, the chanting began. I was annoyed that Cath wasnt there and that inner rage gave me a sharp vibrato I could have done without. As the group worked themselves up to a crescendo, I felt less and less part of it. My anger, caused by Caths absence, had de-yoga-ed me. I stayed to the end but only physically. I was utterly distracted and already working on a few killer lines for the forthcoming argument. As I left the studio, with my fellow retreaters asking me why Cath hadnt turned up, I almost literally stumbled upon her, lying on the lawn. She was whimpering and saying shed broken her toe and was in agony. Someone brought out joss sticks and by their dim light we could see that the big toe on Caths right foot was at a ninety-degree angle to the rest of the foot. It looked like one of those trafficators they used to have on Austin A30s. She explained, through the tears, that she had been racing barefoot across the grass, not wanting to miss the first in-breath and, amid the darkness, had accidentally kicked the handle of an upturned cauldron. Shed lain calling for help but her cries were drowned out by the chanting. My first thought was, If you laugh now, this relationship might end tonight. My second thought was that I had to get her to an AandE department and I didnt have my car. My third thought was that I wouldnt now be able to use the melodramatic I dont want my voice involved in any chant that doesnt involve your voice line I had been internally preparing. Getting a taxi in the countryside is like one of those scenes in Hammer horror films where Peter Cushing walks into a village tavern and, unfolding a small sheet of paper from his pocket, asks one of the bar staff if theyve ever seen the symbol written on it before. I had to get through a lot of fear, suspicion and downright hostility. I spoke to many people with impenetrable accents who offered information and advice, all of which sounded like extracts from a nineteenth-century ballad. Eventually, after seventy-five minutes, the car arrived. By the time we reached Truro AandE it was about two oclock on Sunday morning. I paid the driver the fifty-five quid he assured me was the going rate for that journey. It reminded me of Mr Pickwick buying a horse from a local dealer who received his money with a smile that agitated his countenance from one auricular organ to the other. Arriving at AandE was like arriving at a nightclub. Young women in almost no clothes and young men whose testosterone was forming beads on their heavily tattooed skin stood outside smoking, snogging and arguing in the light from the hospital windows. I knew if they smelt incense on me I was dead. Still, if I was going to get brutally assaulted anywhere that night, I could do a lot worse than the entrance area of the local AandE. Cath and I walked through the throng as we had often walked past bulls kept illegally close to public footpaths on our numerous walking holidays. We were relieved to get inside but soon realised we were among the same crowd. They were just resting between cigarettes. The man on the counter told me he loved me, that I was the funniest man in Britain and that we should expect to wait about four-and-a-half hours before Cath could be seen by anyone. I realised I was in a place where celebrity counted for nothing my own version of Kafkaesque. There were no seats. I helped Cath to a wall. A woman in a little black dress lay sleeping across three chairs, near to where two men were arguing about something too colloquial for me to understand. Another man was bleeding, quite heavily, from a head wound. I was waiting for Virgil to sidle past with Dante. Eventually, after what, in fact, turned out to be only three-and-a-half hours, a woman appeared and told us she was the triage. I was very excited by this because Im always keen to learn new words. Id never heard of a triage before. She explained her role was evaluating and prioritising the needs of the AandE patients. She smelled of clean linen and competence. I felt Cath relax on my supporting arm. We had found an oasis of calm amid the madness. As she examined Caths foot, I asked her about the triage business, about AandE, about coping with abuse, drunkenness and vomit on a regular basis. She smiled. Theyre just people, she said. We can usually help them. All my fear, my moral outrage, my arrogance, suddenly seemed a bit stupid. She was, as far as I could tell from our ten-minute conversation, someone who wasnt very interested in judging people but was very, very interested in healing them. She didnt even seem to be judging me for judging them. So, when is your quietest time? I asked. When it rains, she said. I considered the implications of that fact. In any other context, Id have gone on about how outrageous it was that people were obviously going to AandE with problems that they suddenly considered manageable if the weather became a little overcast. But, by now, such views seemed pathetically inappropriate. I knew Id be barking up the wrong triage. That smile of hers made me feel slightly ashamed of myself. I didnt want to be Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells any more. I wanted to be all understanding and serene like her. So, in the early hours of Sunday morning at Truro AandE, Cath got her toe strapped up and I got a lesson in compassion, a lesson in acceptance and, ultimately, I suppose, a lesson in humanity. It was the sort of stuff I was supposed to be learning at the yoga retreat. Still, never mind. As long as I got that flat stomach EMMA WATSON Dear NHS, I first got to know you when my mum had issues with her diabetic pump when I was a child. My brother and I had to wait on our own while she was being seen. There were toys and it was comfortable and you were kind to us. I got to know you better when I broke my toe during that dance competition I was training for. You gave me gas and air and helped put it back into a normal (!) looking place. I felt I could trust you. Later, my brother broke his ribs during a sports match. You took care of him too. At university I went abroad. My new friends lung collapsed so I took him to hospital. The doctors wouldnt see him until he could produce insurance papers. All the time he couldnt breathe. I was terrified hed die while trying to produce the right paperwork I missed you. My best friend, her husband, her mum, her dad and her brother all work for you. They are family to me. I want to scream and cry in frustration when I see junior doctors striking because the work and the way the system has been drained makes the job feel impossible and untenable. They are the people I respect the most in my world and I hate that what they want to do, what they love to do, what they feel is honourable to do has been made hard to do or a difficult vocation for them to pursue. NHS, youve been there for me. Youve been there for the people I love. YOU are one of the things that makes me proud to be British and now you are the thing keeping us together during this crisis. How can I possibly thank you enough? Just Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. STEPHEN FRY Unextraordinary Yes, like any other Briton I have my share of NHS stories. Emergencies, tragi-comedies, disasters and deep trauma feature amongst them. Many will have more dramatic, more eye-watering, more heart-rending, more eye-popping stories to tell than I have. Mine reflect the particular chronic conditions to which I have been subject in mind and body. Nothing too extraordinary. But they are extraordinary if you transplant them. Ill come to that. Story one is ugly and unhappy, but Ill tell it. Aged seventeen, or maybe sixteen and a half, I wake up in a ward in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. My stomach has been pumped. I have taken a wild cocktail of pills in a despairing effort to end my life. A psychiatrist comes and holds my hand and talks to me. I am smiled at, comforted and given time to come to myself. There are lots of other details but I wont embarrass myself, my family or you by dredging them up. Its enough to say I was helped and here I still am. Story two will be familiar to those who, like me, have been laid low by sudden acute episodes of asthma during the course of their lives. They will know that the devil can lash out when you least expect it. For almost all of the year 1988, I house-sat in Islington for the writer Douglas Adams. He was thousands of miles away in the company of the zoologist Mark Carwardine, collecting information on disappearing animal species for their book, Last Chance to See. One evening I invited my friend Ben Elton round for a bite of supper. Sometime after midnight, he reckoned it was time he was going. I picked up the phone and called for a taxi. While we waited for it to arrive, I went to the kitchen to forage for one last drink. I found two bottles of beer. Chimay, the brand was called, brewed by Trappist monks in Belgium. Very fancy. I poured out two glasses. Cloudy. As soon as the fluid touched my throat I recognised the signs. By the time I had put the glass down I could barely breathe. Thats how quick the reaction can be. My lungs just seemed to completely close down. In shock, Ben tried to call 999. He didnt realise that Douglass up-to-the-minute house telephone system required the input of an initial 9 for an outside line. So Ben needed to dial 9-999. I didnt have the breath to tell him. Or to do the dialling myself. Fortunately, just at that moment, Bens cab pulled up outside. I dimly remember being dragged along to the front door and pushed into the taxi and the sound of Bens urgent voice, rising in panic: The nearest hospital! Its an emergency! The next thing I recall was waking up in a recovery room, oxygen mask on my face, concerned eyes peering down. It had been a close-run thing, it seems. Not much oxygen had been getting through to my brain by the time the taxi had arrived with a squeal of brakes at the main entrance of St Bartholomews Hospital. Ben had got me onto a wheelchair and run in, yelling for assistance. By the middle of the afternoon of the following day, I was all better and was released with a brand new EpiPen and a snazzy portable nebuliser in case it should happen again. Follow-ups included visits to all kinds of specialists, right up to Professor Malcolm Green, now retired but then head of the National Heart and Lung Institute. I have, as you probably do, a good many stories like that. Broken ribs, arms, strange eruptions of one kind or another. Spots in front of the eyes, a drop in hearing, a lump here, a limp there. Nothing, as I say, extraordinary, but certainly extraordinary when you transplant them. When you transplant them, for example, to the USA. I live part of the year in California. Tell American friends how you can arrive at a surgery or hospital in need of attention and walk out having received kindly and professional care without at any point being asked for a credit card number. Explain that at no point are you handed a bill. That at no point do you frantically have to get in touch with an insurance company. Even if, as I always manage to do, you forget your national insurance or NHS number, you are calmly assured that the paperwork will catch up. On one occasion in America, I was so incensed by the die-hard bloviated twaddle being talked on right-wing radio broadcaster Rush Limbaughs programme that I called it up. He and his loyal listeners had been railing against the threat of Obamas socialised medicine. How ineffective and iniquitous and foolish it was. What an affront to the honest taxpayer. How in Britain people were always complaining about it. The waiting lists. The sick lying on gurneys in corridors. How it made no sense to put your life in the hands of the government. I phoned in and told Limbaugh that I reckoned if you stopped Britons on the street it would take you a long time to find one who didnt love, honour, venerate and feel deep pride in our National Health Service. In America you have a socialised military after all, I said. Taxpayer funded and defending America against the threats of enemies foreign and domestic. Well, we have a medical army defending us against the threat of sickness and disease. Why is one acceptable and the other not? Limbaugh said something like, Youre very confused, my friend, very confused indeed before I was cut off. The my friend rankled especially. Well, how other countries choose to look after their sick (or not to) is none of my business. But we in Britain need to remind ourselves from time to time how our individually unextraordinary stories add up to something so highly extraordinary after all. Did we need a pandemic to be reminded? SIR MICHAEL PALIN My experiences of the NHS have the common theme of humanity and humour. At the tender age of twenty-four, I had my appendix removed at University College Hospital in London, which subsequently won a special place in our hearts as the birthplace of all our three children. It was my first experience of life on a ward. I was writing comedy at the time but my three-day stay was a sitcom in itself. The patient next to me was a quiet and courteous man, but the nights were difficult for him. As soon as it was dark and silent hed cry out in a querulous voice, Im dying! If there was no answer, and there never was first time, hed repeat it more powerfully. Nurse! Im dying! No youre not, Mr Lygoe, the nurse would reply patiently. I am, Mr Lygoe insisted. No, youre not. Yes, I am! This would go on until the whole ward was awake, including the man in a bed opposite, who had two very contradictory problems. One was a terrific sense of humour and the other was recently completed surgery on his haemorrhoids. One thing he shouldnt be doing was laughing and the one thing he wanted to do more than anything else was to laugh. And not just a snigger or a giggle, these were big full-throated belly laughs, each one accompanied with the agonising cry. Oww Oh my God! which would make him laugh even more. He found everything hilarious. One morning my friend Barry arrived with a plastic bag containing Playboy magazines going back three years. Dont open those, Michael, he called across the ward. Youll split your stitches! This set him off again. Haa! Ha! Oww! Oh my God! I turned the pages, licking my lips as I did so, which was cruel. A chaplain came to visit me. Nice and well-meaning but no match for the priest who bent low over his Catholic patients, offering copious words of comfort, never loud enough to completely mask the sound of Guinness bottles being stowed in the bedside cupboard. At a table in the middle of the ward, a burly man in a white coat was using a hole-puncher to prepare papers for a file. He was appearing to make what seemed a simple process into an Herculean task, raising his arm high in the air and bringing it down with a force that shook the table. I asked a passing nurse who he was. Oh, him? she replied brightly. Hes the surgeon who took your appendix out. My two other experiences both involved my good friend Terry Jones. He was preparing some oysters for one of the wonderful meals he used to turn out, when the knife slipped and dug deep into his hand. We wrapped it up as best we could and I drove him round to Kings College Hospital in my Mini, with Terrys arm held up vertically through the sun roof. AandE at Kings was a pretty grim place that day, with all sorts of people in various states of distress, but when they saw two Pythons coming in, one with a bloodied arm sticking straight up in the air, it was as if Christmas had come, and appreciative laughter rolled around the room. Its good to be able to raise others spirits. When I was in Barts recently, recovering from heart surgery, a regular stream of doctors kept coming in to check my stats. I couldnt believe the attention I was getting. After an hour or so, the staff nurse came in and apologised profusely for the presence of so many doctors. Weve put a sign on the door now, he assured me. You wont get any more. But didnt putting a sign up to keep doctors out seem a little counter-productive? Oh, theyre not your doctors, he explained, theyre just fans. A final tribute to the lengths NHS surgeons will go to to accommodate patients wishes was at a hospital that had better remain nameless. Terry Jones was having some of his bowel removed and expressed a wish that at some point during the procedure they might take a photo of his bowels. He showed me with enormous pleasure a picture of a little coil of bowel posed neatly on his tummy. Terry thought this was marvellous. You so rarely see your own bowels. He showed it to everybody and even considered using it as his new fan photo. The NHS is basically made up of people looking after other people. Though there is much skill and technical support required in treatment, the most important thing is to see patients not as numbers on a screen but as fellow humans with all the idiosyncrasies that make each one of us different and special. In my experience, they do this brilliantly. DAVID TENNANT 27 November 2019 It was my first day on a new job, filming a drama for ITV in London. It had been a long time in the planning and development. Id been talking to the director about it for around four years and we were finally on set. It was based on a true story; many books had been read, witnesses interviewed, documentaries consumed. I was all set to go deep for a few intense weeks of filming. Long days at work all wrapped up in my own, ever so slightly indulgent, process. We were about an hour in when my wife called. Nothing to worry about but Im just running the baby to the hospital. She had a bit of a temperature and the GP has insisted we get her checked out. I could hear the sigh of inconvenience in Georgias voice at this jobsworth doctor forcing her to take time out of her hectic-enough life to go down to Chelsea and Westminster on a cold Wednesday evening. This was our fifth child; we knew an overreaction when we came across one. I went back to work and didnt feel particularly concerned. Through the evening, the calls got a little more alarming. I kept filming as best I could, but as the night wore on I got more and more distracted, as our seven-week-old baby did not get quickly discharged from hospital. Emergency childcare was hastily called upon. Who could cover the school run? Is the baby staying in overnight? Whats going on? When I was done at around midnight I went straight to the hospital and suddenly the new job felt a lot less important. The week that followed is a bit of a blur. I would leave hospital to go filming but all my good intentions about being deep in character evaporated in a fuzz of real life. I just had to get through each day to get back to the hospital. The drama wasnt pretend any more. When it was all over my wife wrote this on social media: Last Wednesday my NHS GP sent my baby to AandE after spiking a high temperature. Eyes rolling at this seemingly over-the-top reaction, reluctantly I trudged along, mildly coughing child in tow, to my nearest NHS hospital. We were seen within 10 minutes. After being checked over by 2 over the top NHS nurses and another 2 over the top NHS doctors, the now slightly lethargic baby was admitted. What ensued over the subsequent 6 days will haunt me forever but now back home, on the sofa, my baby tube-free and pink again I take away one thing; our NHS is magic. An underfunded, understaffed and under threat sort of magic. Full of amazing people whose over the topness puts people back on sofas together. I cant thank you enough NHS and from now on my family will do all it can to help keep you together. Just as you did for us. To live in a country where we can take remarkable, life-saving care so utterly for granted that we can find being so looked after almost inconvenient is a luxury and a privilege I will forever be grateful for. Our baby is fine now she wont remember anything of her week in high dependency. But we will never forget it. DAVID BADDIEL It was Christmas Day 2015 when my partner cut her finger off. She didnt do this festively. She didnt do it peeling sprouts or slicing turkey: all that (plus a nut roast for her and my vegan daughter) had already been lovingly prepared. We were literally about to sit down to Christmas dinner when the finger came off. This was in Cornwall, where my partner Morwenna Banks writer, actor and Mummy Pig in Peppa Pig (always complicated for a Jewish bloke) is from. We were staying in an old house by the sea. It was, as the maritime stories say, a wild and stormy night. Outside that property is a shed, which operates as a utility room. Morwenna, always keen to utilise spare time, had thought, Dinners nearly ready; Ill just go and get the clothes out of the dryer. But on coming out, as she was trying to close the ancient and clunky shed door while holding a basket of clothes, the wind took the door and slammed it shut on her left hand. She came back into the house and very calmly told me that the top of her left index finger had been taken off. At first, even though there seemed to be a lot of blood in the sink after she washed it off, her calmness made me think she meant perhaps a tiny sliver of skin. However, when I went out to examine the scene of the accident, I saw on the ground outside the shed door what unquestionably was a proper, joke-shop section of finger. Swinging the torchlight onto it was as close as Ive come to being in a horror film. Until coronavirus transformed all our lives into something a bit like Dawn of the Dead, of course. Back in the house, I did the obviously right thing: I put the bit of finger on some ice in a Jiffy bag and left it in the freezer (on top, I think, of an inordinately large tub of Roskillys vanilla ice cream). That, I knew, would mean that, should it be needed in the future, the fingertip could be sewn back on, no bother. We called NHS Direct. The woman at the other end of the line was worried. She said we should go to hospital. But Morwenna wasnt keen. Morwenna is a selfless person and absurdly stoic. And one thing about Christmas 2015 was that my mum had died on 20 December 2014, which had cast a bit of a shadow over our festivities the previous year. Plus Morwennas mum had died very soon after, in January. So there was a lot of pressure to make Christmas 2015 especially brilliant for our still-young children. Perhaps I can make this clear through our then eleven-year-old sons tearful response to the door accident: I just want to have a Christmas where no ones finger gets cut off and no one dies! Which frankly was closing the stable door after the horse had bolted. And probably, in so doing, cutting off the stable-owners finger. This was why she very much wanted not to spoil Christmas for the kids this year. Plus, I, who am not selfless, had cooked the turkey and was really looking forward to eating it (mainly brown meat for me). So we bandaged up her hand as best we could and had Christmas dinner. Towards the end of which, it became clear to me that Morwenna couldnt pass the brandy butter without fainting. We called NHS Direct again. The same woman told us now that because the door was old and rusty, and because Morwenna was starting to feel woozy, we HAD to go to hospital, as there was a danger of sepsis. Which meant that, after a certain amount of apologising to the kids for another ruined Christmas, we got in the car. When I say the car, what I mean is MUD. We go to Cornwall a lot, and earlier that year I had invested in a car to keep down there, in Morwennas cousins garage in Falmouth. The term invested is being used very loosely here. With two kids and large distances across a county to travel, I should of course have bought a second-hand Ford Focus or Clio or something else reasonably reliable. Instead I bought a fifteen-year-old Volkswagen Golf convertible. In my mind this was a classic car. It wasnt. It was in fact neither a classic car, nor a reliable second-hand runaround. It was a piece of shit. It cost me a thousand quid. It often very often did not work at all. What was particularly crap about MUD (so called because those were fittingly the first three letters of its registration) was its canvas roof. It leaked, badly. I had dealt with this not by getting it fixed in a garage but by taping a shower curtain under the roof in the places where I thought the leaks were. Which worked brilliantly. Except when it rained. Which in Cornwall, on Christmas night 2015, it was very much doing. We got in the car me, Morwenna and the children, Ezra and Dolly. I heard Morwenna, through her pain and wooziness, say: My seat is really wet. I made a mental note to perhaps tape two shower curtains to the roof in future. I turned the key and, amazingly, MUD did at least start. We were staying quite far south on the Lizard peninsula. We had discussed which hospital was best. Treliske in Truro was the biggest but it wasnt that near, compared to smaller ones in Helston and Penzance. We headed first therefore to Helston, where there is a Minor Injuries Unit; we decided, optimistically, that this was what had happened to Morwennas hand. When we got there it was one minute to eight in the evening. We rushed in. It was Christmassy. There were fairy lights. A woman on reception was dressed as an elf. Another woman, a nurse, had plastic antlers on. However, the Helston Minor Injuries Unit shuts at 8 p.m. (this, you see, is why I remembered the very specific time in the previous paragraph) and they were in the process of doing exactly that: shutting. They said: its not a minor injury. Go to Truro. So obviously we went to Penzance. This is because, by now, the wind was really bad and the rain was coming down heavily, and Penzance AandE was a bit nearer than Truro. The roof was leaking so badly by now that the whole family was sodden: it was like I had chosen to drive on through a storm with the convertible roof down. When we got there the hospital was, at least, open. I proudly showed a doctor who came to examine Morwenna the fingertip I had remembered to bring, still in its Jiffy bag. He looked at it and said, yeah, you may as well throw that away. Apparently, the best thing to do with a bit of your body thats been cut off is to keep it warm. Icing it up kills all the nerves. I think he actually threw it in a bin in front of me. Morwenna was taken to a cubicle and given gas and air. She told me afterwards that while she was in there waiting, she heard the duty doctor say to another woman, behind the next curtain, So is this a regular problem for you? Cystitis? I stayed out in reception with our disconsolate children. Eventually, she came back and said: we have to go to Truro. They had cleaned and properly bandaged the finger. But it turned out she had broken the bone in the top of her finger and Penzance Hospital did not fix broken bones. Just to be clear, for those of you who dont know the geography of Cornwall, Truro is in the opposite direction from Helston to Penzance. We had driven about an hour in the opposite direction of where we actually needed to be. So we then had to drive two hours back across the county to get to Treliske Hospital in Truro, where we could have gone in the first place. I began to wonder, truly, if the shower curtain was going to survive. By the time we got to Treliske, it was about 10 p.m. We sat in AandE for some time. The thing I remember most clearly is that they had a big telly in AandE up on the wall and Michael McIntyres Christmas Comedy Roadshow was on. I like Michael. But I have never hated his jolly, smiling king of light entertainment face more. After another hour, Morwenna was taken away; this time, it transpired, for the night. Because here, finally, the doctors could fix her finger, or at least, they could, as they put it, nibble the bone at which point I thought I was going to faint down so that it might one day work as a finger again. But it would require her staying in for the night and not coming out until Boxing Day evening. Me and the children said a tearful goodbye to Morwenna, got back in MUD, and drove another hour back to our house in the Lizard. Im an atheist, and Jewish, and I spent most of it praying to Baby Jesus that the car, whose engine was now sounding worse than someone with a COVID-19 dry cough, make it back. We did, but by the time we arrived, it was well past midnight, which meant that Christmas Day had ended for my children somewhere on a rain-lashed A30 in a shit car under a shower curtain that was now more of a shower than a curtain. Ill be honest. Im not sure it was a better Christmas than the one when my mum died. So. Despite it being Christmas, this isnt a story about miracles. Nor about the NHS being miraculous. They didnt keep the Minor Injuries Unit open for us at Helston. They couldnt fix Morwennas finger in Penzance. In Truro AandE they wouldnt even switch off Michael McIntyres Christmas Comedy Roadshow, no matter how many times I asked. But those women dressed as elves and reindeers in Helston had been working all day all Christmas Day. The doctor in Penzance was patient and kindly spoken, and betrayed almost no sign of incredulity at having to deal with a woman who had come into AandE on Christmas Day with cystitis. At Truro, they fixed Morwennas finger and by Boxing Day she was out, with a huge bandage all the way up her arm, and Christmas continued. Her hand, in the end, was fine. And perhaps most importantly, that woman, whose name I will never know, but who, again on Christmas fucking Day, was working the line on NHS Direct and who told us to go to hospital or else Morwenna might get sepsis she may well have saved my partners life. And frankly, if Morwenna had died, it really wouldve been a shit Christmas. CAITLIN MORAN A ll church halls smell the same a combination of hot dust, floor polish and tea. All church halls sound the same, whether theyre holding a jumble sale or collecting votes on polling day: a polite British murmur, occasionally punctured by a baby yelling and the noise of the pensionable samovar clanking into action. But today today, the church hall looks different. Today is an event that, in this place, comes around three times a year because its Blood Donation Day. And so there are signs in the street that read DONATE BLOOD HERE TODAY and two huge blood donation vans in the car park. And, when you enter the hall, there are nurses in blue tabards servicing the twelve reclining chairs where people lie giving blood; as those who wait murmur, a baby occasionally yells and the pensionable samovar clanks into action. Outside, its beautiful, a beautiful day shoals of swifts screaming as they chase insects; horse chestnuts in full bloom. But in here, people have cheerfully given up their picnics, their walks, their lunch hours and their housework to give a pint of blood. To just fill a 500ml, clear plastic bag, which is then carefully labelled and stored in refrigerated units until needed. One man has brought his toddler with one hand he keeps a bottle jammed in her mouth, while the other arm is tethered by a needle. Another man, in a suit, turns up. He looks like he spends most of his day shouting at people on the phone, making big things happen. He has an air of peevishness as if, in his time, he has sent back a lot of soup. Today, however, he sits patiently on a chair, waiting. He is greeted as a regular. Here, hes taking a holiday from being a bit of a bastard. It looks like a relief to him. As if perhaps most of the time he has too much blood, from all the red wine and steak, and its quite calming to have it drained away and put to use inside someone less driven. I havent given blood for God eighteen years? First there were babies, then work and then, on three pivotal occasions, I was drunk. I feel ashamed I have left it this long. Giving blood is something I believe in like I believe in libraries, and council housing, and David Bowie. So I guess Id become a lapsed blood donor? But today, I am coming back into the faith. I know why I want to give blood for donation feels like an act of thankfulness. It acknowledges that you are alive, and grateful for it, and wish to share the gift of living with someone else for whom living has become, suddenly, perilous. It is the most useful thing you can do in just twenty minutes. It is fascinating to be this useful. To see how something you can spare a pint of blood is so treasured that this whole room has assembled to take it from you. I go into a booth with a nurse and she does a finger prick dropping a bead of blood into copper sulphate. Iron test, she says. The bead sinks. My blood is heavy with iron. How amazing to be full of metal. To see it. On the reclining chair, the needle is bigger than I remember it hollow, like a tunnel being pushed into a ring-road of arteries and veins. I make myself watch, because this is interesting, too. It hurts as much as pulling out a single eyebrow hair. Thats the exact amount of hurt. I look around at everyone all calmly lying back as they donate, as Tony Hancock put it, nearly an armful. Im very surprised when I start to cry. Its one of those cries that just enters with no warning like when Rik Mayall makes a cameo in Blackadder. Its because, in the last few years, we have been led to believe that we are a little bit harried, a little bit unyielding that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and the smart thing to do is harden your heart and look out for yourself. Weve split into camps, tribes to begin to talk is to fall into an argument and reveal yourself as someone elses problem, or enemy. Baby boomers are pitted against millennials, Leavers against Remainers and yet, even in our furiously bonded groups, weve never felt more anxious or alone. Along with sparrows, bees and skylarks, it feels as if love is in decline too. You do not see it around so much any more. You do not open the door and hear it singing. But here, this room is full of the least talked-about love love for someone youve never met. Here is a system set up, without profit or material reward, based on a simple idea of a country never wanting to see someone bleed out on a table when there were a thousand people out there who would have given their blood in a literal heartbeat, if theyd been asked. This, then, is where you are asked. This is where you can lie on the bed and scrunch your hand into a fist, over and over, sending all the luck in the world to the team who will, one day one terrible, unlucky, critical day for someone break open the seal on your bag and try to keep someone alive. Maybe this heartbeat will turn someones lips from blue to pink again. Or this beat bring back a mother, or a father, or a child. All the calmness and love in this room is being sent into some furious, terrified future in AandE that you will never know about but where you will be the magic that stops a life from being undone. Perhaps the life of someone you know. Perhaps your own. Perhaps you are not donating at all but lending. As others once, maybe, lent to you. The church hall, the vans, the nurses, the donors, the samovar, clunking; Britain thinks it is having an identity crisis but a country is, simply, what is does and it does this. It has an NHS where people donate their blood for free. Where they come and put 500ml of love in a clear plastic bag, which is carefully labelled and stored against future terror. In church halls, like this, in every county, smelling of hot dust and love. DAWN FRENCH Mum I hate Derriford Hospital. It has been the setting for so many life-changing and life-ending moments in my family. Every time I enter the huge sliding doors at the entrance, my stomach lurches. Its the muscle memory of all the nerve-wracking, heart-cracking times Ive been there. My nephew and niece were born there. My old granny Lil was nursed there. My father-in-law had huge surgery there. I have visited cousins and uncles and friends there. So many lives I value have been saved there. But each time I set foot in there, the most potent memory is of my beautiful mums beautiful death. It is possible to do death right. I know. I saw it with my own eyes. At Derriford Hospital. Eight years ago. Mum was short of breath. I think she knew. She didnt tell us for weeks. Shed been a smoker since she was thirteen years old. Loved it. The kind cancer doc carefully explained that her lungs were struggling. They offered chemo. But before even the first appointment, she went downhill rapidly. They explained it was terminal. And probably soon. In the car, she said, Its win win, either I stay here a bit longer with all of you. Or. I go and see your dad. At last. Hed died thirty-five years before. Shed missed him so much. For so long. Her faith was unwavering. She would be reunited with him. A week or so later, on Mothers Day, she woke up and could hardly breathe. The ambulance came. She looked out at her beloved sea view, and we all knew she was bidding it farewell. She went into Derriford. Brent Ward. The names of the wards are strangely comforting. They are places weve been, we know well: Stonehouse, Postbridge, Burrator. Mum tells us shes not afraid to die, but shes terrified at the prospect of not being able to breathe. A difficult night, while she struggles with it all, despite lots of loving support. By the morning, her mind is made up. Her time has come. She asks to see her grandchildren. She tells them all how unique and marvellous they are. She sees Dr Mary Nugent, who is in charge of her palliative care. Dr Nugent says I know who you are, Roma French, you have done so much for people in this city. Its my honour to help you now. Mum says, And I know you, Mary Nugent, you are a superb doctor, and I want to go to sleep and not wake up. Please. Thank you. Dr Nugent explains the Liverpool Care Pathway. Mum says that is PERFECT. My brother and I tell her that we love her very much and that she has been the best mum ever and that we owe our happiness to her. She smiles. She takes off her wedding ring. She gives it to me, and winks. Her comfort medication is given carefully, slowly and she sinks into a deep deep sleep. My brother and I take it in turns to sit with her. Two days. Three nights. The nurses let us snatch some sleep on a small bed in the back room when we can. I am fast asleep when my brother comes in to gently wake me in the early hours. Shes gone, Moo. We stand together next to her for a while. Soft, grateful tears. Mum has taught us that its OK to die. So many nurses, doctors, cleaners and helpers had been there to support her, and us. Quietly, respectfully doing their jobs so well, and helping us all to pass through this difficult, sacred, unforgettable moment the best they could. My brother and I left as the sun rose. We both took deep lungfuls of cold air as we walked back out of the huge sliding doors. Plymouth air. Which Mum had longed to gulp. The air of home. Yep, I hate Derriford Hospital. But try telling me theres a better hospital for my family. You cant. Because there isnt. Its sort of miraculous there. PAM AYRES 2020 Ive been to other countries where you pray you dont get sick, Where if youre taken ill, no kindly ambulance comes quick, No motorbiking paramedic roaring through the rubble, Where if you have no cash to pay then mister, youre in trouble. We have a gentler system, which is comforting to all, It strives for our wellbeing, be we elderly or small. With expertise, professional, extended countrywide, So, in an emergency, a world is at our side: Consultants and anaesthetists and those who man the door, Specialists and surgeons and the folk who mop the floor, The porters and the nursing staff who labour night and day, And never ask the patient if they have the means to pay. A plague has come, a plague thats new, yet old, as old as time, Fomented out of suffering, and cruelty, and grime, With unimagined images which linger in the head, Refrigerated trailers for the storage of the dead. With calm and regulated care, staff with one accord, Though fearing for their families, are working on the ward, Where end-of-life care nurses, in their strange protective dress, Hold a fading hand to dull the pain of loneliness. Thanks to every doctor, every midwife, every nurse, Every single worker in the fight for life immersed Whatever God you recognise, may your endeavours bless, Sending love and gratitude to you. The NHS. JOANNA LUMLEY I am in an awful hole here. Being as fit as a flea and virtually unsinkable, I have no NHS experience AT ALL. (Well, I do; when I had my appendix taken out when I was twelve and was put on an old peoples ward, but that was sixty years ago and times and the NHS have changed mightily.) So, I havent got a story to tell but I LOVE the NHS with all my heart, and love paying my taxes in full because I know it will benefit. I am tear-streaked not to be able to send more than a HUGE virtual hug for the whole of the NHS, and the deepest curtsey, and the most colossal gratitude and admiration. In fact, if I heaped up all my admiration and affection for the NHS and pushed it towards this fantastic organisations feet it would simply disappear from view. JO BRAND Hello everyone, Im Jo Brand and I worked as a mental health nurse between 1978 and 1988. I loved it: the camaraderie, the closeness of our team working together, the laughs, the adrenalin, the successes, the friendships, the canteen sandwiches, the cigarettes, Christmas and even the bad bits. And to anyone working in the NHS now, I salute you. Here are a few stories from my time as a nurse Yes, it was back in the olden days, even before mobile phones. EMERGENCY As a student mental health nurse, I inevitably got my turn on the emergency bleep a few months into my training. It bleeps, you call a number, you run to the ward where youre needed. I turned up at one emergency to find a recently arrived police cadet holding down a protesting, wild-eyed woman in her sixties. Having got to the ward and witnessed this woman shouting and waving her arms around, he immediately and efficiently got her down on the floor and lay across her. All great, except this woman was the senior sister. UNEXPECTED After a gruelling couple of hours on the Emergency Clinic, where we tried to persuade a very ill, threatening, paranoid young man to come into hospital, and in the end were forced to physically restrain him in the Outpatients while people waited for their appointments, I was glad to get him onto a ward safely. The whole incident had been disturbing and upsetting for everyone. About a month later, the young guy in question was unrecognisable when he arrived in the clinic to thank us for looking after him and shook everyones hand. This is the reason most people become a mental health nurse. TEACHING SESSION As student nurses we didnt think of ourselves as daunting. Until one day, a junior doctor came to give us a lecture in the School of Nursing using a teaching aid which involved writing on an acetate sheet, which is then projected onto the wall. He switched on the teaching aid and, as we waited for him to write, he walked towards the rectangle of light on the wall and started to write on that. Poor sod. I think it took him a long time to live that down. UNDER LOCK AND KEY On secondment as a student to a mental health unit for the elderly, I was asked to take a woman in her seventies, who I didnt know very well, home for the day in order to assess her ability to manage domestic tasks and see how she coped generally in the home environment. Please dump all your preconceptions about the frailness of the elderly. This woman, lets call her Enid, was built like a weightlifter with the strength to match. And I wasnt exactly willowy. We were dropped off at 9 a.m. by the lovely minibus driver who was due back at 3 p.m. and then began the strangest of days. After we got into her ground-floor flat, she didnt even take off her coat before she started pushing the furniture up against the door. Paranoia was a feature of her illness. My enquiry as to why she had done this caused a furious reaction and she stopped for a second to punch me. Quite hard. It hurt a lot. She was bigger than me, tougher than me and scary. I realised I wasnt going to be able to stop her without getting a fair bit of grief, so I decided to let her carry on. I couldnt leave so I just had to make the best of it. I sat around in this atmosphere of threat for the next six hours, trying to keep it light and chatty with varying degrees of success. The minibus driver arrived back at 3 p.m. and, when we didnt appear, came to investigate. The door was barricaded but he managed to communicate through a window while Enid smacked me round the back of the head. While I distracted Enid, he managed to force the window a bit more and get in. He knew Enid well and she was only too happy to go with him. NURSES HOME One night, I was in my room at the nurses home and, I have to say, quite drunk after a session in the pub. I couldnt sleep and Im not sure why but I became convinced there was someone outside my door. Unable to ignore the very strong feeling but thinking I was just imagining it, I opened my door. A mans face was about an inch from mine. Struck with fear, I immediately slammed the door and pushed my bed up against it. I sat up all night too scared to go out of the room. In the morning he had gone. A RAY OF LIGHT The locked ward could be a harsh place. Most people didnt want to be there and werent allowed to leave. In-patients were expected to attend a group every morning and, as most people were so ill, this could be frustrating and occasionally scary. One morning, into the midst of this chaos walked a well-known actor, brought in the night before by the police. Still in a hospital-issue dressing gown, he climbed onto a table our hearts missed a beat but he began to sing Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, from some musical or other, while conducting with an imaginary baton. Some were transfixed, some indifferent, but most joined in and it was one of the loveliest things Ive ever seen. JONATHAN ROSS I was born in 1960 so have never known what life might be like without the magnificent safety net that the NHS provides. My time on the planet would certainly have been different indeed, I would have been different. Chances are, I would be missing the top of the index finger on my right hand. When I was about eighteen months old, my mother left me in the care of my elder brothers, both being more than capable of looking out for a toddler, as they were nearly four and five respectively. But needs must; we had no food, so my mum went on one of her fairly regular foraging trips to the neighbours asking to borrow some. My memory is, of course, not to be relied on, but I imagine hunger got the better of me which is why I apparently crawled to the bin in the kitchen and dug out an old, opened can of beans. I sliced the tip of my finger off and a doctor, whom Im sure never received sufficient thanks, sewed it back on. Sewing the tip of a screaming, wriggling babys finger back on cant be easy but he did a pretty good job. Its wonky, sure, but it works. So belatedly, thank you. My career as a hand model never happened of course, but the surgery was free and the finger is functional and thats all I really care about. Without the National Health Service I might also have an enormous growth on my forehead. Fast forward about fourteen years and you will find me sitting on a bus the 262 I think heading to my local hospital, Whipps Cross in East London. You will notice I am clutching a milk bottle on my lap and am getting slightly strange looks from my fellow passengers. The milk bottle, capped off with a rudimentary lid of kitchen foil, contains a pint of my still-warm piss. My doctor, Mr Patel, had sent me in after failing to work out what the growth on my forehead was. But he was confident it should be removed. You will have surmised by now that my parents, though loving, had a casual approach to childcare and I was effectively self-raised. So being told to bring a urine sample on my visit, I had taken the initiative and filled the whole bottle. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and carrying a small pot would have been much easier and much less splashy. The nurse who took the pint off my hands presumably absorbed enough information from my look ill-fitting hand-me-downs, worn-out shoes and a garnish of piss splashed in my lap (that foil lid was a bad idea) to have worked out I was not a rich tourist slumming it. She reassured me that a whole pint was perfect and would I take a seat. The lump on my head turned out to be a benign cyst and was removed about a month later. I spent the night on the ward the only time in my life Ive been hospitalised, but I have only the fondest memory of it. The food was good, the people who worked there were universally lovely and my fellow inmates patients? who were also having cysts removed were good-natured and funny. I think we all knew how fortunate we were to get this kind of care without needing to pay or get into debt. I woke up with my head bandaged which made me feel roguish and piratical and also lucky more so when I noticed the two elderly men in the beds that flanked mine both had heavily bandaged groins. But the point, the simple point, is that someone like me from a piss-poor background although literally I suppose I was piss-rich, seeing as I could splash free pints around, so cash-poor could have such complicated and expensive procedures carried out for free. Without wishing to pile it on too much, its not an overstatement to say that I knew that, even if my parents werent totally there for me, the NHS always was and always would be. I am lucky enough to have enjoyed good health most of my life, so mainly I have entered AandE due to stupid accidents that were a) entirely my own fault and b) could have been easily avoided. Case in point: a visit made when I had twisted my ankle painfully and needed relief. I rushed down with my wife and our baby, carried safely in her arms. When the junior doctor asked how I had come to be injured, I unwisely told the truth. We had been watching Stars in Their Eyes and I had been so incensed by one of the participants poor attempt to capture the idiosyncratic dance moves of Mick Hucknall that I had leaped up to demonstrate how it SHOULD be done and discovered, painfully, that it was harder than I thought. After an x-ray showed that it was merely a sprain, I was bandaged and sent home. They gave me painkillers and the staff decided that, due to my bravery, I also deserved a lollipop and a certificate normally reserved for far younger patients. Theres something quintessentially and wonderfully British about both the NHS and our ability to take the piss in a kind way. So thank you all. KEVIN BRIDGES Ive been asked to help out in a lot of ways since the Covid-19 lockdown began and yet, aside from a few poor attempts at doing keepy-ups with a toilet roll as part of the show off your massive garden series of celebrity challenges, Ive found myself gradually descending into a pit of unmotivated slothfulness. Adam has only asked me to contribute a chapter, or even a few paragraphs, with a fairly generous two-week deadline and even at that Im cutting it slightly fine. My circadian rhythm is bordering on the alarming, even by a stand-up comedians standards. Im not sure if my mind is officially in British Summer Time; Ill need to take a look at a map later and determine approximately which time zone Im living in. Somewhere near the east coast of America, Id say. Greenland or somewhere like that. Of course, this is the first time Ive opened up about this unproductive rut; my WhatsApp group chats are the first to know of anything meaningful Ive accomplished during this bleak period screenshots of my mediocre times on the few 5k runs Ive attempted, photos of some home gym circuits and the front covers of a few books Ive bought but havent started, complete with a bookmark strategically placed to imply progress. Despite the vicissitudes that the world is experiencing, Im attempting to maintain some equanimity by focusing on little tasks, no matter how picayune. Like writing down words Ive read and didnt know their definitions, and then learning them by looking them up and using them in a sentence. Words like vicissitudes, equanimity and picayune. Like most people, I look forward to relative normality being restored and I know how important it is that we all do our job, or our bit, by staying indoors no matter how mentally challenging it can be at times and by checking in, via phone and video calls, on our family, friends and neighbours, especially those who are elderly and vulnerable in any way. And of course, if youre in a position to, make sure you drop off food and medicines and help out any charitable causes which will be struggling massively. So, to the National Health Service. I would have written NHS but Im attempting to bump up the word count of my ramblings here if I hit a thousand words, I can justify an afternoon bottle of some mental-sounding and fairly potent Belgian beer. My wife, Kerry, and I have been out in the garden for the last few Thursdays, applauding and drinking one of said mental-sounding and fairly potent Belgian beers and prosecco, respectively, in your honour. Like the great people we are. We also pay our taxes in the hope you are provided with the wages, equipment and environments you deserve, which is a more tangible way of showing appreciation, but thats a rant for another time. Aside from an asthma attack when I was seven, when I was rushed to hospital and kept in for a few days, and a fairly embarrassing operation a year ago (Ill omit the full details here but google torn fissure nerve for an idea. Never strain too hard during a bowel movement, folks), my own personal experiences with the NHS are fairly limited, thankfully. A situation that will gradually change as I grow older and my west of Scotland upbringing takes its toll. But I write a personal thank you on behalf of some very special people in my life. Notably my parents and my mother-in-law, Joanne, who has been relentlessly and heroically fighting a battle with cancer for many years. As these are grim times, I feel a more light-hearted and recent NHS anecdote is a better choice. An afternoon last summer, Id popped in to see my mum and dad, Patricia and Andy; a fairly routine visit, but I wisely came armed with updates on the ever-evolving wedding plans for Kerry and my big day, in anticipation of one of my mums increasingly frantic interrogations. Theres less and less bees every year, theyre saying I walked into my parents living room just as my dads latest discourse was gathering momentum. Theyre saying has long been my dads method of revealing his sources, an attempt to ensure his heavily paraphrased, embellished monologues hold some integrity when placed under scrutiny. My mum looked happy to see me; she always does, but she looked especially happy as my entrance offered a natural out, a temporary escape from my dad and his concerns about the dwindling bee community. A routine visit passed, but a few days later, a hysterical phone call from my mum revealed the true extent to which my dad had enlisted himself as a guerrilla warrior in the fight to save the bee. Hed been out on the top step having a cigarette, one of the twenty highlights of his day, when he saw a bee struggling under a sheet of tarpaulin which was placed over a garden chair. In many Scottish gardens during summer time, tarpaulin offers an alternative to carrying the garden furniture to the shed every evening, in anticipation of a torrential downpour. The bee was released safely, but my dad, aged seventy-two, had over-stretched himself, lost his footing and fell down the original five stairs before rolling and then beginning a rapid descent down the big stairs, which lead out onto the pavement. A fall which would have been hilarious to onlookers if he were still in the optimum age bracket of comical falls, approximately between the ages of twelve and the early fifties. Its one of the first signs of ageing, when you have a slapstick tumble that elicits panic and genuine concern as opposed to helpless laughter. My mum was preoccupied with preparing a ham salad and oven chips staple Scottish summer garden food and had missed the incident, only appearing from the doorway to see my dad lying face down and unable to move or make a sound. Being a neurotic worrier and a lifelong doomsday prepper, and also a devout Catholic, her initial reaction was to shout to her best friend and neighbour, Bertha, who was running down her own stairs having witnessed the whole thing from the bee salvage right through to the fall to phone their parish priest. First aid, paramedics, nurses, doctors were all cut out of the rescue bid as my mum had pronounced my dad dead and it was now a matter of having his soul redeemed and his last rites read. The feeling of frantically racing down to my parents home after my mum had hung up the phone is still vivid and the morbid feeling of helplessness will never leave me, but it was also assuaged (another one of my new words there, folks!) by a rational voice in my head reminding me that my mum is prone to a hyperbolic overreaction. When I arrived at their garden, my dad was conscious and repeating his oft-said mantra: Patricia, fucking calm down. These will no doubt be my dads last words, but not this day. He was clearly in agony, a little embarrassed and unable to move, but he was already beginning to see the funny side and proudly announcing the news of the bees emancipation. My dad has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for as long as I can remember and had recently been struggling with pneumonia, so it was clear, despite his protests, that he needed medical assistance. It was a serious situation, but maybe not serious enough to justify the amount of missed calls from my mum on the Lords phone. After a bit of convincing from my mum, Bertha, myself, Kerry and my brother John, and following advice from Scotlands ever-excellent NHS 24, it was decided that, based on the likelihood of serious injury and his recent medical past, my dad was to get over to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow. Grudgingly, fearing being kept in overnight or for a few days, my dad was helped into my car and off we went. We were seen fairly quickly, given my dads age and the colour he had turned as the adrenalin wore off and the pain kicked in. The nurse, Sue, introduced herself and calmly reassured my mum that my dad was in the best place and all the standard stuff. She had recognised me, which is always handy in these situations, and it turned out that her brother was the one and only Tommy Flanagan, star of one of my favourite films, Ratcatcher, and a major Hollywood player, starring in Sons of Anarchy and a shitload of other acclaimed shows and movies. My dad, who was now perking up again, realising a fresh set of ears was now present to hear of his bee rescue, began to rattle off his Netflix recommendations and apologised for having not been able to get into Sons of Anarchy, but that he would as soon as he was out, perhaps seeing this as a bargaining tool. An if you let me leave, Ill watch your brothers show type of arrangement. With the nurse and doctor fearing that the impact from the fall could have affected my dads lungs, which wouldnt be ideal for his steady recovery from pneumonia, he was taken for an x-ray which, fortunately, came back showing only a few cracked ribs. My dad was advised to stay in hospital for the evening, but managed to negotiate an early release with a dose of heavy painkillers and a promise to rest in bed and watch Sons of Anarchy. He managed a dance at our wedding, even mimicking a few shotguns being fired into the air as the band played their George Ezra cover. On behalf of my family, thank you, to Sue (Tommy Flanagan is not the only superstar in his family) and all of the staff, nurses and doctors at the Queen Elizabeth who looked after my dad in this instance and countless others in so many other, more serious instances. Were as indebted to you all as that bee should be to my dad. In these times, I dont have to detail the worry we all feel for our parents, grandparents and any loved one who fits the high-risk category. So, another thank you, to the NHS staff, across the board, for their expertise, their professionalism, their compassion and their unyielding work ethic in what is a truly overwhelming time. They are the frontline heroes in this war effort. Thank you also to the staff, nurses and doctors who care for the young people at the Queen Elizabeth teenage cancer wing which I proudly opened a few years back. To everyone at Clydebank Health Centre who has been there for me since I was born, from my MMR jabs to my sore arse, and a special thanks for the care that they continually provide for my parents. Finally, to Dr Sadozye and Dr Siddiqui from the Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow for their dedicated treatment of my mother-in-law, Joanne. I hope this little contribution can in some way reflect my gratitude to the NHS and my hope that they all keep strong and are rewarded for these monumental efforts. Ill be pouring one out for you all on Thursday night. MARIAN KEYES On Monday morning, 17 January 1994, I awoke in my flat in Maida Vale in London. Id had a terrible weekend, which had been spent drinking and contemplating suicide. Now it was Monday morning and I was deep in the horrors. My friends and colleagues had been telling me for some time that I was an alcoholic and that I needed help. But they were wrong. I was simply depressed and alcohol wasnt my problem, instead it was the solution. However, on this grey January morning, I understood intuitively that alcohol was making me miserable, that it had stopped all forward propulsion in my life and it ruined anything good and decent. I needed to stop. But I knew couldnt. Suspended between those two impossible extremes keep drinking/stop drinking it was clear that I couldnt keep on living. There were sleeping tablets in my bedroom, and some antidepressants. I took them all and waited to die. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I wondered if there was any other way of approaching this? So I rang a friend, who rang an ambulance, which arrived a short time later. I remember the paramedics, two men, friendly and brisk. Cheery, even. Strapping a woman into a stretcher before 8am on Monday morning seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary for them. They took me to St Marys Hospital in Paddington where I was seen right away. Instead of having to have my stomach pumped, I was fed activated charcoal, which I subsequently discovered is how most overdoses are treated. There are many people who think that taking an overdose is an act of self-indulgence, but none of the staff at St Marys seemed to think that way: they were so incredibly kind to me. The act that I remember with the most gratitude is when my poor mother rang from Ireland. These were the days before mobile phones so the nurses let me use the phone on their desk to console my devastated mother. Somebody got me a chair to sit on and everyone continued working all around me as I let myself be persuaded to go to rehab. The following day, I flew back to Ireland and two days later checked into a treatment centre. I havent had a drink since. Because of the way Id been living, if there had been a cost for calling an ambulance, I wouldnt have done it, I couldnt have afforded it. I would have let myself die. Likewise, with the hospital care. Three months later, I returned to London and was able to restart my life, living in a better, healthier way. Im so profoundly grateful to the NHS for saving my life and doing it with such compassion and kindness. NAOMIE HARRIS I was fifteen and filming Runaway Bay, a childrens TV series set on the Caribbean island of Martinique. I was filming with five other kids all around my age and this was the third year in which we had the privilege of spending our summer break simultaneously working and holidaying on the glamorous island. However, this year, unlike the others, I wasnt having fun. My mind was entirely consumed with the event I knew was waiting for me as soon as I got back to the UK. I had worn a back brace since the age of twelve to try to correct my scoliosis (curvature of the spine), but recently the doctor giving me my yearly review had told my mother and me that my scoliosis had continued to advance and I therefore needed to have the Harrington rod operation if I didnt want my breathing to be impacted as an adult. The Harrington rod operation would involve the removal of a rib on the right side of my body, deflation of my right lung to access my spine and then the insertion of metal clamps along my spine to try to prevent the curvature from getting any worse. I would have to be in hospital for a month. Words like devastated and terrified dont even come close to expressing how I felt at fifteen, never having spent a night inside a hospital before, let alone had an operation. I arrived at the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in Stanmore, London, sun-kissed, but totally unrested from my time in Martinique. I had a suitcase packed for my month-long stay and a bundle of nerves held in the pit of my stomach. Needless to say, I did NOT want to be there. As my mum settled me into the ward in preparation for my first night alone in hospital, I made a silent pact with myself that I was going to be out of that hospital in way under a month. I was planning on being the fastest-healing Harrington rod patient in history! I have so many memories from my stay in hospital (which did in fact end up being a month) The little boy in the bed across from mine who was having the same operation but had to spend double the amount of time in hospital because his parents were Jehovahs Witnesses and so wouldnt allow blood transfusions; the frustration of not being able to do basic things, like walk or sit up on a chair; the huge Edwardian windows that flooded the ward with light; the smell of disinfectant; the challenge of trying to sleep in a ward full of children making noises all night; my mum having to work but always managing to be by my side. But the strongest and most impactful of all of these memories are of the compassionate faces, encouraging words and embraces of the incredible NHS nurses. Id arrived at the hospital full of bravado, desperately trying to hide the terror I felt about my impending operation from my mum and everyone else I knew. Id managed to fool a lot of people they called me brave and said I was coping so well but my act didnt fool the nurses at Stanmore for a second. On my first night, as soon as my mum had said goodbye and headed home, one of the nurses came and sat on my bed. I cant remember exactly what she said, but it was something to the effect of, You know, Naomie, its OK to be scared, every single child here was afraid before their operation. It wasnt really so much what she said that affected me, but the insight with which she said it. It was like she understood what I was feeling without me having to say anything, and she gave me full permission to let down my guard, to stop pretending to be stronger than I actually was and to allow myself to be a scared kid. That nurse will probably never know just how powerfully healing that moment was for me. There were so many other moments like that with different nurses that I vividly recall from my time in hospital The love wordlessly communicated to me after my operation through the care with which nurses cleaned and tended to my scars; the patience with which my arm was held as I was guided around the ward as I struggled to learn to walk again; the gentleness with which I was helped to wash and clothe myself while I healed, and the many, many moments when I cried and was held and comforted. Nearly three decades later, I could look back on that period of my life as grim and challenging, but because of the compassion and care I was shown by those NHS nurses I remember it instead with gratitude. At a time when I had no choice but to let my guard down and put my faith in others, I was shown that there are so many people in this world who are kind, who care and who are there to help. Its one of the most powerful lessons Ive ever learned. To me, those nurses were as close to living, breathing angels as Ive got and I will be forever grateful to every single one of them. CHRIS ODOWD When the Heart of a Man Meets the Leg of an Elephant I had been feeling well, as it happened. I was twenty-seven, carrying a few unnecessary pounds, a couple of which I had just picked up through an overly indulgent visit to a local kebab establishment. Otherwise, I was in fine fettle, I presumed, like a fool. I ambled along merrily from Stockwell tube with nothing but a song in my head, a spring in my step and a whistle in my pocket. (I always carry a whistle in my pocket in case any ad hoc refereeing needs doing.) But my merry meander was cut short, as, from nowhere, my chest tightened, my legs bore a knuckle and my stride became a stumble my robust frame collapsing slowly like a poorly constructed flan. I was lying on the footpath now, which wasnt ideal. I was sweating, though it was a December evening in London, which also seemed unhelpful, at the time. As my human form slowly slumped across the concrete paviours, my left arm tingled in morbid excitement. The flapping flutter of my limb was understandable. It had never witnessed a heart attack before, let alone shared a body with one. Yes, readers, my heart, long my burden, was giving way at the tender age of twenty-seven. I had attracted the rockstar curse, it seemed, which was fittingly above my station. Even my heart lacked the humility to retire at a less notorious age. I was alone, phoneless and at the mercy of the commuting Samaritans of south London. A passing skateboarder (Stockwell has a thriving skateboarding scene which I hope to embrace and indeed rule one day) came to my aid. I breathlessly asked him to call me an ambulance. He nobly sidestepped the comedic landmine and actually phoned for help. The London Ambulance Service came swiftly, as is their wont. The dreadlocked paramedic asked me how I was feeling. He took my pulse and made me comfortable. He offered to contact someone to accompany me to hospital. (I was soon joined in the mobile health wagon by my ex-girlfriend, or the one that got away, as Ive been told to stop calling her at home.) Its worth noting that at no point during any of this did the paramedic make any mention of payment or insurance plans. Nor did he question my nationality or my means. In contrast, we live in California right now, where once my wife, deep in labour, was stopped from entering our delivery ward until all the correct paperwork was signed and filed. She stood at the reception feeling the baby crown like an evil prince until we were seen as financially fit enough for a bed. Not in Stockwell though. That night, they gathered me up in their caring embrace, like an older sibling. Dont worry, pickle, they seemed to say. We all have bad days, well help you fight another! the sirens screamed. It was mercifully quiet at Guys hospital in London Bridge. It was a Tuesday, I believe. My nurses name was Tina. She was Scottish and its true what they say, theyre just like normal people, the Scots. Tina was supremely soothing but took zero shit from yours truly. She recognised me from the telly but insisted the other fella on the show was the funny one, a point to which I reluctantly agreed. In some feverish attempt to bond with my carer, I informed Tina that my mother had trained as a nurse here in the 1960s and asked if maybe she knew her. Tina coolly informed me that she was fifty-six. So I changed the subject. Doctors came and went. The AandE staff, who seemingly use their free time to take plate-spinning classes, lurched in and out of my situation. They strapped some wires onto my muscular torso and six-pack. There was an ECG machine, I seem to recall, but Im no letter-expert. Assessments happened and I waited, all the while writing an unimpressive will in my head. As well as the first draft of my own eulogy. Before too long, Tina returned. With a warm smile, and a hint of a smirk, she said, Well keep an eye on ya Chris, but were fairly sure its just trapped wind. The air went out of the room. Probably looking for its friends, who were congregating within my chest cavity. Its not my heart? I asked, almost disappointed for some reason. Your heart is fine, just go easy on the meats, theres only so much room in there, she replied, her tone warm, her eyes already moving on to a patient in more need. As I left the hospital, I wasnt handed a bill that would cripple me but rather a pamphlet on healthy eating, which, of course, I ate immediately. If theres a lesson here, its probably the importance of exercise and that a meal served from something lovingly called an elephants leg should probably be enjoyed in moderation. If theres a moral, it is the glorious consistency of healthcare professionals. Even for idiots like me, they are there when we need them, and they are there when we dont. Thank you NHS, now, and always. ED SHEERAN I, like most people in the UK, grew up with the NHS. I was born in Halifax in an NHS hospital, was in and out of the GP surgery every few weeks with ear infections from my first few months, had laser treatment for a port wine stain on my eye at Leeds General Infirmary over several years, had stitches on various parts of my body from always being a curious kid all throughout my childhood, had my eardrum replaced when I was eleven in Ipswich Hospitals childrens ward and got both arms put in casts in Ipswich AandE when I fell off my bicycle mid-tour in 2017. And I havent even touched on dental and eye care! The NHS really has been there through every single up and down of my life so far, and every visit even though I was either in pain or terrified wasnt ever as bad as I was thinking it was going to be, and that was down to how professional and lovely the doctors, nurses and support staff were. Although I am grateful for all of the times the NHS has been there for me personally, the thing Im most grateful to them for is the care they gave my grandmother in the final few months of her life. She was in Aldeburgh Hospital in Suffolk with terminal cancer but had had a lifetime of health problems that left her in constant pain. My grandfather, her husband, worked as a doctor in the NHS for much of his life, but thats another story. I was lucky enough not to be on tour during my grandmothers final months, and because I lived locally I was able to visit her every few days. The care she received was incredible; the people who worked there so lovely, compassionate, funny and caring. When she passed away, I wrote a song called Supermarket Flowers about the situation. The verse lyrics are about packing up her room at that hospital. Me and my family became very close to the nurses who worked there and my mum is still in touch with them now. I see them from time to time when Im in the area and its like meeting old friends. Places like Aldeburgh Hospital just dont exist in large parts of the world and, in many, places like this are private and cost a lot of money, or you have to have health insurance to be able to access them. The NHS is unique. It can be taken for granted, or just accepted as the norm, but its not the norm. Without sounding cheesy, its the backbone of our country and idolised by me and millions more. This time of crisis has reminded so many how important it is to us, and to the country, and I hope, going forward, it will get the financial support and respect it deserves. It was created for a reason to provide consistently excellent, reliable healthcare to all, regardless of background or means and we mustnt ever lose it. Thank you to everyone who works for the NHS. Thank you for putting other peoples pain and suffering above your own, and thanks for all youve done for me and my family. DAME JACQUELINE WILSON When my daughter Emma was small there was a special book she wanted me to read aloud every single night. It wasnt The Tiger Who Came To Tea or Where the Wild Things Are, though these were great favourites. It was a little Ladybird book called The Nurse. It was a simply written, rather prosaic non-fiction book about nurses, with a picture on every page. Emma soon knew the text by heart and could chant along with me. She thought the 1960s nurses uniform very glamorous. Certainly many people have a nostalgic yearning for the prim blue dress with its tight elasticated belt, starched white apron, elaborate cap and shiny black stockings, though not always for the right reasons. Emma decided she desperately wanted to be a nurse herself and played endless games with her toy nurses kit, taking it all very seriously. Then one day a small friend came to tea. This child ate eagerly enough but almost immediately was violently sick, all over herself, the table, the carpet, even the wallpaper. Emma retreated to the other end of the room, horrified, while I did my best to comfort our guest and start the much-needed mopping. Id done the same for Emma before, never a pleasant task, but somehow its worse when its not your own child. Emma watched, pulling a disgusted face. Wait till youre a nurse. I expect youll have to clear up sick lots of times, I said, meanly. She was shocked. Nurses dont have to do that! she said. Oh yes they do, I insisted. Emma nodded and hid the Ladybird nurse book in the cupboard. Ive just been looking through a copy of it, shaking my head wryly at the dated explanations, but in some ways the words still ring true: Nurses in hospital work very hard. Although the nurses may sometimes feel tired, they are always cheerful and smiling. Smiling is probably the very last thing anyone feels like doing in the NHS at the moment, and its hard to see lip movement behind a mask but theyre certainly working harder than they ever have in their lives. I learned to appreciate the NHS long before we knew there was such a thing as coronavirus. For the first sixty or so years of my life I was in perfect health and Id only had brief spells in hospital for mundane reasons: tonsils and adenoids as a child, childbirth as a young woman and a small lump removal when I was around forty. I took pride in my fitness, my energy, my stamina, producing two books a year and packing in countless visits and events and long signing sessions. Then suddenly my body rebelled. First it was heart failure, sudden and dramatic and life-threatening. I shall forever be grateful to the doctor who first diagnosed me and the medical team at the Royal Brompton Hospital. It took a little while for me to recover and to get used to my own private defibrillator sewn inside my chest, but I felt Id got my Big Medical Drama over and done with. I didnt realise that my kidneys were now failing too. Within a few years I had to go on dialysis, not the most pleasant of processes, but much better than the alternative. I grew to love the gentle, efficient nurses I saw three times a week, mostly from the Philippines, the kindest and most cheerful medical staff ever. I was lucky enough to have a transplant after a couple of years and the renal team at St Georges were wonderful, both to me and my donating partner. There was one funny moment when the young nurse admitting me needed a swab from my groin to make sure I wasnt harbouring any bugs. I was standing with my jeans round my ankles, trying to look nonchalant, when she looked up and squinted at my face. Oh my God, youre the Tracy Beaker author! she said. I love your books! Its always lovely to meet a fan, but perhaps its better when youre fully dressed! All the staff on that unit were incredible. I have particularly fond memories of the soft-voiced star of the tea trolley, a young woman who served the food on our ward. The morning after my transplant, she came tip-toeing into my room and woke me very gently, with a cup of tea and a slice of toast spread with butter and marmalade, cut into squares as if I were a little girl. I dont think anything has ever beaten that breakfast. You dont sign off completely after a transplant, so I report back at regular intervals. I have been known to fret about the hours waiting to give blood, or the endless weighing and monitoring. Never again! Im newly grateful to the NHS, for the time and care and money theyve spent on me. Theyve literally saved my life twice over and theyre currently risking their own lives to nurse every patient that they can back to full health. God bless the NHS! PAUL MCCARTNEY As far back as I can remember, my mother was a nurse. She became a sister on an NHS ward and later was a midwife, so my feelings about the NHS are obvious its a fantastic institution. I know that anyone who works for them sees it as their vocation and is a real hero. One of my outstanding memories is that, one night, in the winter in Liverpool where we lived in the midwifes house, my mother was called out to assist a local lady in giving birth to her baby. I remember standing by the front door watching her leave the house on her midwifes bicycle with a basket on the front and her medical case on the back. The road was covered in a good few inches of snow, but she had no alternative other than to go to the birth in her midwifes uniform on her standard-issue NHS bicycle. She set off leaving tyre tracks in the snow. That moment will be with me forever and encapsulates my pride in, and gratitude for, the National Health Service. We are so lucky in the UK to have such dedicated people to look after us all and no matter who you are you can still benefit from this fantastic system. Thanks NHS. Thanks heroes. Thanks Mum. Love, Paul MONICA ALI Mrs Antonova A deep stillness had settled over the ward. The high winds of washing, dressing, toileting, consultant rounds, medicine rounds, food trolleys, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, bingo, Scrabble and hairdressing had subsided, leaving the place eerily becalmed. Yasmin looked around. The linen cage was almost bare, only a few white sheets and pillowcases hanging limply over the wire racks. The door of the equipment room stood open to reveal a leaning tower of commodes, loosely piled hoists and a jumble of drip stands. Yellow holdalls of dirty linens lay like sandbags in front of the pharmacy cupboard. Nothing moved. Visiting hours were often like this. Yasmin tiptoed past the bodies, the closed eyes and open mouths, the rows of arms pinning the bedclothes as if rigor mortis had set in already. She hovered at a bedside, fighting the urge to poke and prod. There was no need to go round checking everyone was still breathing, disturbing everyones rest. It was only exhaustion. Old age and sickness and sheer exhaustion, because washing and dressing started during the night shift at 5.30 a.m. If there were no visitors during visiting hours it was perhaps a blessing because the patients could get some sleep. Something stirred. Yasmin turned to see Mrs Antonova struggling to sit up in bed. Let me help you. She rushed across. Mrs Antonovas ribcage felt so fragile beneath the brushed cotton nightdress, when Yasmin put her hands on her back. Thank you, pumpkin. Mrs Antonova called everyone pumpkin, from the cleaners to the consultants. She was ninety-six years old and this was her third stay in hospital in as many months, this time following a fall at home. Now, if youd care to do me another favour, just get one of those pillows and hold it over my face. Dont let go until youre absolutely sure. Im sorry youre feeling that way, said Yasmin. I can prescribe you an antidepressant to help if youre feeling so low. Im sure you can, pumpkin. But Im not depressed. Yasmin sat down on the bed and took Mrs Antonovas wrist. Her pulse was a little thready but nothing out of the ordinary for a patient with chronic atrial fibrillation and arrhythmia. Im not depressed, Im bored, said Mrs Antonova. Im surrounded by She peered around and Yasmin was struck by her regal bearing, even in her rucked-up nightgown, with her wig askew. By that! Mrs Antonova, said Yasmin, do you mind if I sit here with you for a while? Call me Zlata. Mrs Antonova, since her readmission, seemed devastatingly frail. Impossible now to imagine her being strong enough to push a trolley. Which was how shed wedged the door handle of the television room for the protest shed staged during a previous stay. But her voice was still full of mischief, and she winked at Yasmin as she said, Man trouble, is it? Oh, no, said Yasmin, smiling, nothing like that. Just thought we could keep each other company. Mrs Antonova tugged at her wig, making it even more lopsided. The aubergine-coloured curls, thick and shiny, contrasted impressively with her paper-thin, paper-dry skin. Man trouble! I know it when I see it. Married five times, and so it goes. Five times! said Yasmin. Mrs Antonova, on a previous stay, had told her about three husbands: a Uruguayan dentist who turned out to be homosexual; an Israeli violinist who had spent two years in Treblinka and who, three days after a honeymoon at the Sea of Galilee, committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at Tel Aviv Savidor Central (it was the 9.45 p.m. to Hod HaSharon) and a civil servant from Bexley Heath who, Mrs Antonova indicated by a vague wave of the hand, was not worth talking about. Yes, five. Do you know how old I was when I was first married? Sixteen. Thats eighty years ago. Goodness! Id love to hear all about it one day. She should be catching up on paperwork while the ward was quiet. She should be snatching an opportunity to study for the MRCP exam or update her reflective practice on her e-portfolio. She was behind with everything. Mrs Antonova leaned towards Yasmin. It was a risky manoeuvre and for a moment Yasmin feared she would topple sideways out of bed. You are very busy, pumpkin. Thank you for the visit. It was lovely. She sounded like she meant it. Mrs Antonova looked her age, or rather, she had moved beyond the age where people guess an age (Doesnt he look great for eighty-two?) into a fearful zone of decrepitude that tends to evoke pity, not admiration. But her voice had not aged with her; it was strong and singsong. Playful. Im not busy, said Yasmin. Tell me about your first husband. Dimitri Ivanovich Shestov was fifty-three years old when I married him, and I had just turned sixteen. Of course it wasnt my idea to marry Dimitri, I had no say in the matter. I believe my father owed him money or something silly like that. How awful. Yasmin felt sorry Mrs Antonovas only visitor was a doctor. She felt sorry for the entire somnolent ward. The cancer wards, at visiting time, turned into a scrum. Cancer made you popular. He was the love of my life, sang Mrs Antonova. Somewhere in the rubble and ruin of her body, Zlata, the sixteen-year-old bride, still lived. He was a white Russian, an ?migr?, like me do you know about the white ?migr?s, pumpkin? Mrs Antonova explained that she was a baby when her parents fled Moscow in 1921. Her father, Vladimir Antonov, was an academic. Her mother, Nataliya, was only twenty years old when they fled to Istanbul, and eventually Prague, Paris, London. She took with her baby Zlata, a Kornilov tea set and a determination to live in exile the life of a Russian noblewoman. The Kornilov teacups had little gold griffins for handles. The insides were fully gilded and the outsides were painted with seashells and flowers. You know what we were, pumpkin? We were gypsies. Noble gypsies roaming Europe with our teacups and rye bread and Russian pride. Sometimes we had no bread. But Vladimir had his writing and Tashenka had her cups and they both had their pride. Pride, you know, is a very expensive commodity. Mrs Antonova fell silent. So what happened with Dimitri? Who? said Mrs Antonova, closing her eyes. The love of your life, whispered Yasmin. JIMMY CARR Dear NHS, Not all stories have happy endings. Spoiler alert: in this one, my mum dies. In spite of advances in medical science, miracle cures, Hail Mary passes and last-minute reprieves, the reality is, for all of us, death is our ultimate fate. But thanks to the NHS, none of us have to face it alone. My mother Nora Mary Carr (n?e Lawlor) was a nurse. She trained at the Regional Hospital in Limerick, Ireland, and came over to London in the early 1970s. She was one of those migrant workers, the ones who (when were not having a global pandemic) get given a hard time: These immigrant doctors and nurses, they come over here, saving our lives. My mother was how can I put this? fucking hilarious. Any talent I have in me, I got from her. I dont know what shed make of my stage act but I think shed want a credit and royalties. Fun, loud and inappropriately sweary, she was the life and soul. She had a literally breathtaking laugh. If you really got her good, shed fall completely silent, eyes half closed as she slowly rocked back and forth, looking like she was having some sort of fit. To be clear, this isnt what killed her, but what a way to go. Some say: Grief is the price we pay for love. And some say: Home isnt a place, its a person. Well, my mother was my home and, when she went, the grief pretty much broke me. She was young in her mid-fifties when she died in Guys and St Thomas Hospital, London. Opposite the Houses of Parliament on the River Thames, you could scarcely find a more picturesque spot to watch a loved one fade away and die. Twenty years later, and I still feel the waves of grief. Ill find myself driving the route I took to visit her in hospital and itll hit me. Im right back there in 2001. She passed in September, just before 9/11. It felt like the sky was falling and the world was ending just like it does now. My mother first got sick in January of that year. Thats nine months of 24-hour care, day in, day out. There are countries in the world where that simply could not happen. Who would have paid for it? The care my mother received was, as youd imagine, exemplary. But it was not just my mother who was looked after in that hospital. Through their support and unending kindness, the doctors and nurses also took care of my brothers and me, and helped us to cope. Or to pretend to cope, which I think is as close as you can get in that sort of situation. Pancreatitis isnt a fun way to die. There are false dawns; youre in and out of intensive care. It must have been hard for my mother to get the diagnosis shed have known the prognosis all too well. I remember at the end, a nurse told me that I should call my brothers. She said that my mother had around five hours. Imagine that. The nurse had seen so many people die that she could say, with accuracy, what was coming and when. Mercifully, she knew the signs, which allowed us all to be there at the end. If you can be with a loved one when they die, you should. Her hands getting cold as the circulation shut down, her breathing getting heavy, the death rattle. Bearing witness to a death is an incredibly intimate thing. You should be there, not because its easy it isnt but because one day youll want someone to hold your hand. Its amazing to me that I can look back on a period of my life that ended with the most important person in my world being taken away with a prevailing feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the extra time we got with her. And gratitude for the love our family were able to share with her in an environment that felt constantly supportive. The truth is, in those nine months that hospital became our home and the NHS became part of our family. Of course, you want to go back to thank the doctors and nurses who fought the good fight. Who allowed my mother to die with dignity and, thanks to the pain management team, peacefully. But I cant go back because that ICU is gone. Its still there, obviously, but those doctors and nurses are no longer on shift and someone elses relatives pace the halls. And its not like I have one doctor and a couple of nurses to thank. Its an entire system. Ive got to thank ALL of them. The doctors, the nurses, the hospital porters and custodians, the administration staff theres an army of people who make up our NHS. National is at the heart of the NHS, itself at the heart of being British. Ive said it before and Ill say it again, perhaps we should take the politics out of the NHS. Its just too important to be a political football. Maybe we should do what they did with pensions. Triple lock it, link the spending on healthcare to GDP and write it into law. Be generous. Lets take care of the NHS before we think were going to need them. And make no mistake: we will all need the NHS. Private healthcare is all very well for ingrown toenails and Botox its for vanity. But anything serious, you want the big guns. You want the NHS. If youve got cancer or Covid-19, you dont give a fuck about a colour TV in your room. Not all heroes wear capes. A lot of our NHS staff dont even get to wear the proper PPE. It would be remiss to not mention and honour the healthcare workers who died caring for us in this pandemic. The unimaginable bravery they knew. Like firemen walking into a burning building, they knew the risks and they worked anyway. So many of them did not make it out. I have no god. No disrespect if you do, May your God go with you, as Dave Allen would say. Prayer to me is abstract; its whispering into the abyss. But I do believe in the NHS. I know if I dial 999, an ambulance is coming. Its real. I know if I walk into an emergency room, a doctor will see me. Theyre always there. Its hard to think about the future in the middle of a pandemic. But one thing I do know is that, one day, odds are I will die in an NHS hospital. And Id like to say thank you. Not only for taking care of my mother but, as Ill not be in a fit state to say it on the day, thank you for being there to comfort and care for me at the hour of my death. BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH Praise the saviour In Barbados, my grandfather, a twin But his twin brother died at birth. My father, he too was a twin But his twin brother died at birth. I am a twin, A difficult twin. And I almost died at birth. I was an emergency. Born in a corridor Of the hospital that my mother worked in. I never saw my father cry, But Im told that he cried when he saw me Struggling to enter the world via Birmingham. Im told that he cried when he saw my mother Struggling to give birth to this dub poet The first of a set of twins, Already growing dreadlocks. But this was England, and I made it. Twelve I was when they found a lump in my breast. But boys dont get breast cancer. My father said to the doctor. I thought I was going to die, but I made it. Fifteen I was when my lungs collapsed. An athlete with no lungs wont work, And I thought I was going to die, but I made it. Twenty-five I was when my testicles blew up. I told my girlfriend it was a football injury. Told macho lies to the guys. But I made it. Fifty-five I was when in the middle of a lecture, In front of my students In between Homer and Ginsberg, My appendix burst. Pop. Yes, I thought I was going to die. But I made it. I went down the tunnel, I saw that light. And they brought me back. So I made it. I made it because someone had a dream of healthcare for all. I made it because someone said this is for me, and free. I made it because some idealistic rebel thought I deserved it. So, when I think of why Im here, I think of it, When I think of all my mothers work, I think of it, And when I go into that little room, I vote for it. Ive loved it since the day I was born. The NHS is for life, not just for emergencies. JOHN NIVEN Rock Biographies Lied to Me It is the early nineties. I have just graduated from university and am living with my then-girlfriend Stephanie in a one-bedroom flat in the west end of Glasgow. We are returning late one night when I see that our neighbour Calums door is wide open. Calum is in his fifties and very much a loveable rogue. Hes a Glasgow journalist of the old school: a hard-drinking bon viveur who is never happier than when hes typing up a no doubt heavily padded expenses claim on the battered Amstrad computer that sits on his desk in his front window. Calum is prone to the usual stuff that accompanies his lifestyle: locking himself out of the building and so forth. You go on up, I say to Steph. Ill just check hes OK. I knock lightly on the open door and, getting no response, wander into the hall. Calum? Calum? I shout. Your front doors open. There is noise and movement coming from the bedroom. I walk in. On a chair in the corner sits a fairly rough-looking Glasgow ned in his thirties: crew cut, shell suit and dirty trainers all present and correct. He looks somewhat glazed. Calum is laid out flat on his back on the bed. Standing over him, frantically slapping his face, is his elder brother, Duncan. Duncan is an equally hard-liver a fisherman from the north of Scotland (where both brothers come from) who occasionally visits Calum in order to tear up the town. Ah, hey Duncan, I say. He stops slapping his brother and turns around. Everything OK? Everything is not OK. Some backstory here that I already knew about. Calum had recently been researching a story about drug gangs in Glasgow and had got to know some lads like our shell-suited friend in the corner. Over the last few months, hed gone from just being a boozer to occasionally doing some cocaine as well to, more recently, asking me if I can get him some Es now and then. His Jimmy Corkhill-esque trajectory has reached its apotheosis in the scene now being played out in front of me. Duncan fills me in. Earlier that night, they had been drinking with some rough lads Calum had gotten to know when he decided to front Shell Suit the money to get some heroin in. Theyd retired here to the flat where Shell Suit shot up Calum and then himself. Duncan sensible old fisherman that he is stuck with the whisky. This was not long ago and apparently Calum is no handling it well. I go over and my first thought is that this is correct hes dead. Calum is chalk-white, his eyes closed. I prise open an eyelid and am astonished to see something I have only read about in rock biographies the phenomenon of being pinned. His pupils are microscopic, tiny little pinpricks. His chest is barely rising and falling. He is breathing. Just. I I think we need to call an ambulance, I say. Finally, Shell Suit speaks up. Naw man. Fuck sake. Youll get us all the jail. Hell be awright. Of course, with hindsight, I should have called the ambulance there and then. However, I dont want to get Calum into trouble. I dont know how it works when an ambulance crew arrives at the scene of a heroin overdose. Do they automatically call the cops? Im in my early twenties and massively out of my depth here. I do know one thing though: he is very, very far from being awright. We need to wake him up, I say. Ive been trying that for half an hour! his brother replies. Indeed, I see now that Calums hair and shoulders are soaking wet from the water that has been thrown over him. His cheeks are reddened from all the slapping. It occurs to me that Duncan is paralytic and Shell Suit is smacked out of his mind. Early twenties or not, Im the only adult in the room. It is now that something else comes back to me from the yards of rock biographies I have consumed, something that I read about in connection with Gram Parsons, the country-rock singer who died of a heroin overdose in a Joshua Tree motel in 1973. Right, strip him off and get him in the shower, I say. I run into the kitchen and root in the freezer until I find the ice-cube tray. I run through to the bathroom where they have the naked, still unconscious Calum laid out on the floor of the shower stall. We start running it as hard and as cold as we can get it. Nothing. No response. It has to be done. I begin trying to insert ice cubes into Calums rectum. Have you ever done this? Either out of necessity or for pleasure? (There are more things in heaven and earth and all that, Horatio.) It is not as easy as you might imagine. After a few cubes have been refused entry to his tightly puckered anus and have gone skittering uselessly off across the lino, I realise that my instinctive technique to try and press the cube home with my thumb is defective. Better to slightly spread the cheeks with one hand, place a cube in the palm of the other and gradually try to work it home. Of course, the process is nowhere near as calm and measured as I make it sound here: there is the cold, pouring water soaking me, Shell Suit laughing his head off and Duncan screaming, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?! Finally, I pop one home and the effect is immediate: for the first time Calum opens his eyes. I ram another one in there. And another. Hes awake now. And looking confused. As well you might if youd drifted off on a rainbow cloud of opium and woken up in a freezing shower stall with your neighbour brutally ramming stuff up your fucking arse. We get him out and wrapped in a towel and start walking him around the flat, trying to get sips of black coffee into him. Exhausted, wrung out, I say, OK. Im going to bed now. For Gods sake, dont let him go back to sleep. I head up to the top floor. Stephanie who already disapproves of Calum as an occasional drinking partner of mine is asleep. I turn in too, already working on the lightly bowdlerised version of events Ill present over breakfast in the morning. I drift off but am soon woken by Steph elbowing me in the ribs and hissing, Theres someone at the door! Not the main door, the buzzer. The flat door. I go and open it to see a guilty, despairing-looking Duncan. Sorry John, hes gone again. I throw a dressing gown on and head back downstairs. Calum is naked on his back on the bed and, if he didnt look great before, I am now effectively looking at a corpse. I muster all the authority I can and say, Were calling a fucking ambulance. Shell Suit immediately stands up, nods (my memory wants to add the embellishment that he formally zipped up his shell suit, as though buttoning a topcoat) and bolts out of the flat, down the hallway and off along the street. I ring 999 and tell them we have a heroin overdose. Duncan slumps into an armchair, head in hands, and I wearily retrieve the ice-cube tray for the second time. I am busy at the coalface once again when I am tapped on the shoulder. I hear the crackle of a radio as I turn to see green uniforms and medical bags. Uh, son, what are you doing? I begin to babble probably about Gram Parsons in Room Eight of the Joshua Tree Inn but am simply moved out of the way. The paramedics shine a light into his eyes. They quickly find a vein, produce a pre-loaded hypodermic of some kind and inject Calum. Two years later, watching Pulp Fiction in a dark cinema, I will bark with laughter at the Mia Wallace scene. In reality, it was nowhere near as dramatic. He didnt leap six feet across the room. Calum simply gasped as he sat up, looked around him and said very clearly, Hey! Whats going on? Youve had an overdose. Were taking you to hospital. Calum nodded. Perfectly content to submit to this plan. And with that, they helped him off down the hall and towards the waiting ambulance these men who came out of the night and who saved his life as casually as delivering an American Hot, these heroes who would shortly be on their way to some other hell unfolding while most of us slept peacefully. At the door, one of the paramedics turned around and faced me. The ice cubes up the bum thing, son? Urban myth. Just call 999 next time. It would not be the first or the last time rock biographies lied to me. And off they went, blue-light circles strobing in the dark. The cost? Nothing. And god bless the NHS. The anecdote value? Priceless. JACK WHITEHALL Id never been to a childrens ward before, let alone a childrens cancer ward, so didnt really know what to expect when I embarked on my first visit to the Oak Centre for Children and Young People at The Royal Marsden Hospital. It was Christmas week 2017 and I was visiting to meet the patients and bring some seasonal cheer. One of them was a young boy called George, who had just finished his twelve months of treatment (fourteen rounds of chemo, thirty rounds of proton therapy, surgery to remove part of his spine, three muscles and his L3 nerve from his back) for a very rare form of cancer called Ewings sarcoma. I was fully prepared to be faced with a child at deaths door, bed-ridden, semi-conscious and haunted, with doctors talking in hushed whispers and maybe his parents weeping in the corner. So I was shocked to arrive at his ward and find an empty bed. I feared the worst; maybe hed been rushed in for more emergency surgery, or worse still Wheres George? I asked the nurse, bracing myself. Hes playing football in the corridor with his brother, she replied very casually. I think they need a goalie. I went out to find them both charging around the corridor, dodging nurses as they showed off their skills with the football. Youre late, get in goal please! yelled George at me, not wanting some grip and grin with a random comedian hed never heard of to get in the way of his football match. Well, you cant say no to a child recovering from cancer. His little bald head, the NG feeding tube coming out of his nose and his sallow complexion belied the bundle of energy bouncing in front of me. I took my position between the posts well, when I say the posts, I mean the door frame that had been repurposed as their goal. A small crowd of parents, nurses and assorted hospital personnel had now gathered. George stood over the ball and sized up his options. I mentally weighed up mine. I remember thinking, whatever you do, DONT save this penalty. If you dont let him score, you are going straight to hell. Hed barely started his run-up when I fully committed to the dive, lying prostrate on the floor, waving my limbs around in the air for a good five seconds, ushering him to roll the ball into the gaping space Id left for him. Unfortunately, George shanked his kick directly into one of my flailing legs. An awkward moment ensued, as the onlookers tried to comprehend what had just happened. Did he really just save a five-year-old cancer patients penalty? Encroachment! I announced authoritatively, pointing at a random doctor who was walking through the ward just at that moment. The defender was in the box before the penalty was taken. Youll have to take it again, George. His older brother whispered words of encouragement into his ear as he positioned for the retake. The second time I stayed rooted to the spot and George creamed it into the top left corner. The crowd erupted into joyous whoops and applause, relief for everyone. Other than the poor sod whod have to fix the cracked glass in the door. One year later, I was back to visit The Royal Marsden and see George again. Thanks to the amazing doctors and nurses hed made incredible progress, but was still very much in the teeth of his recovery journey. That said, the change in him was amazing, both mentally and physically. A year ago, during the penalty shoot-out, hed looked like a mini Zinedine Zidane. Now he had a full mop of hair. What hadnt changed was his inability to stay still for a minute. Upon my arrival this time, his mum Vicki a fundraising colossus who, together with dad Woody and big brother Alex, was in the process of raising ?1,000,000 through their George and the Giant Pledge Campaign to help beat childhood cancer handed me a Nerf gun. Theyre waiting for you in the courtyard. Good luck, she said, as I headed out to meet my fate. I felt like a young private being sent over the top of the trenches. I walked into the empty courtyard. George? I called. No response. Alex? Silence. They must have got bored of waiting. I turned around, to be faced with them springing out from behind a bin where they had been lying in wait. It was an ambush! They unleashed a vicious battery of foam bullets, straight at me. I tried to retaliate, only to discover my gun wasnt loaded. Id been stitched up, I never stood a chance! I got a right royal pasting as their laughter rang out around the battle scene. These two experiences and several others that I have shared with some of the extraordinary patients whose paths I have crossed on my visits there have helped shape my understanding of The Royal Marsden and probably all NHS childrens cancer wards like it. Places which, on paper, should be the most depressing places to visit on earth, but are actually full of not just bravery, courage and tales of extraordinary resilience in the face of terrifying adversity, but also of hope, compassion, love, care, positivity and most unexpectedly of all laughter. Thats down to both the attitude of the patients and the phenomenal and dedicated NHS staff, who are committed to not only giving those kids the best chance of beating their illnesses, but doing so in an environment where they can still be children. Where they can play, laugh and not let cancer take over their entire lives and define who they are. Personally, I have been very lucky to swerve any hospital activity, apart from one minor event that meant I wound up in the AandE department of Kingston Hospital, and I have a scar on my knee to prove it. Its one of those scars that over the years Ive attached all manner of fictitious stories to. How did you get that scar, Jack? people ask. And my response varies between, It was in a street fight, or Skiing down a black run too fast. The truth is far less impressive. The reality is that I went to pet a dog, which barked at me, whereupon I ran away shrieking with fear, attempted to jump up onto a wall, tripped and cut open my knee on the sharp edge of the coping stone on the top. When I recount this story I like to elucidate that the dog was a massive bloodhound with an enormous jaw, razor-sharp fangs and a demonic, terrifying bark. My mother, however, will always point out that actually it was a small, cute but yappy, terrier puppy. But I think the gin must have corroded her memory; Im sticking with my version that this mutt looked like the Hound of Hades. What we can agree on with certainty, is the fact that I was sliced open right down to bone, sinew and tendons and needed prompt hospital attention. And also the date, 1 July 1998. I remember this date so specifically as it just so happened that my first ever trip to AandE coincided with England playing Argentina in the knock-out stages of World Cup 98. I recall sitting, blood still oozing from my knee, thinking, please dont call my name out, as I sat watching the television that was playing the match, albeit muted, bolted high up on the wall in the corner of the waiting room. I had to be one of the only people in AandE that day, or come to think of it, any other day, desperate for MORE waiting time. As the game plunged into extra time I was called through to the waiting doctor in the treatment cubicle. After a quick discussion and some hasty rearrangement of the furniture, the doctor manoeuvred me into a position where he was able to do his work, returning the contents of my knee to their rightful positions and stitching me up, and I was able to do mine, gazing over his shoulder and watching the denouement of this epic encounter play out on the waiting-room television. So intent on the game was I, the doctor observed when he had finished, that he neednt have bothered with any local anaesthetic. To be honest, I was so engrossed that I reckon he could have whipped out one of my kidneys and I wouldnt have noticed! At half-time of extra time, as he put the finishing touches to my dressing, I remember remarking to my mum how unlucky all the poor doctors and nurses were that they had to work during the game. To a ten-year-old boy there could be no greater example of the sacrifices that NHS staff on the front line have to make on a daily basis. Youve certainly drawn the short straw today, said my mum to him jovially. Trust me, nothing I could see on an AandE ward could be more traumatic than watching England at a World Cup, he replied. Oh, how pessimistic adults can be, I remember thinking. Twenty minutes later, I understood what he meant. For a young boy with a pretty messy injury, Id entered AandE in a relatively calm state. Several hours later, I left balling my eyes out, having just seen David Batty hit a penalty that was on a par with Georges first attempt in the corridor of The Royal Marsden. Thinking about it now, maybe Id taught him a valuable lesson that day? That, as an Englishman, penalty shoot-outs would only bring him pain and suffering. I had probably done him a great service. As the doctor had pointed out to us as we were discharged: The pain in your knee will get better, the pain of supporting England will not. Unfortunately, however amazing and awesome our NHS health professionals are, there is literally nothing that they can prescribe that can help with that! SANDI TOKSVIG Ive had my life saved several times which, if there is a plan, suggests I ought to have some purpose for being here. The first time I was a small baby. I contracted tsetse fly fever, thanks to some oversharing fly, and my fever soared to alarming heights. We were living out in the African bush and, as the story goes, the flying doctor was called and arrived by small plane. I must have been boiling because apparently he declared, Put her in the fridge. Ive always been small and certainly as a baby I was tiny enough to go in beside the eggs. I dont think this is actually a recommended medical procedure, but here I still am. The upshot is a fondness for the fridge over and above it being a place to keep fruit jelly. The second time medicine intervened to keep me on the planet was when I was twenty-one. I was at university, in my second year, and gradually had become less and less able to eat. I would consume a little and then be unable to force down any more. My fellow students loved sharing a meal with me because I always ordered well and left much, which they could then gorge on. I have never been interested in my looks. My wife says I am the only person she knows who doesnt look in a mirror to comb her hair. As a consequence, I had not noticed that my small appetite did not seem to marry up with an ever-expanding stomach. During the summer holidays, I visited my maternal English grandmother, a forthright woman not awash with empathy. Are you pregnant? she barked at me. I shook my head. I was a secret lesbian, so pregnancy had not occurred to me as a worry, but I didnt want to say so. Granny took me to her local doctor, a woman I had known all my life from our annual English visits. Dr Johnson had seemed old for as long as I could remember. How many times I recalled her coming to my grandmothers house for one thing or another with her small black doctors bag, which, in a Mary Poppins-like manner, always seemed to have the very thing in it that was needed. She examined me. My stomach was very large indeed and I was sent to the Middlesex Hospital in central London. It was 1979 and, unbeknown to me, they had something still very rare in the NHS an ultrasound machine. I think everyone was still going with the pregnancy theory as I kept getting asked about it. I remember the grainy pictures that flickered on a screen as they examined me. I appeared to have swallowed a rugby ball. This is not usual and caused some consternation. I think the machines are more refined now. There was talk of tumours and cancers; surgery was scheduled immediately and soon I had a scar which ran like a railway line from one side of my stomach to the other. It turns out I had an ovarian cyst so large it was written up in the journal The Lancet, alongside other matters of medical interest. Seven pints of fluid in it. The surgeon joked that they had all had to wear wellingtons. This unwanted sac of fluid had pushed against all my organs and stopped me being able to eat. My stomach was large but in truth I had gone down to five and a half stone. I was starving. The recovery took many weeks and I got to know Broderip ward at the Middlesex extremely well. Here the team of nurses were led in an old-fashioned way with Matron shooing doctors away when she thought they had had enough time with the patients. They were glorious women who managed a tricky mixed collection of patients, including an elderly woman with advanced dementia who drove us all mad waking us at night to see who we were. The nurses were kind and patient and dealt with my distress when I had a sort of post-traumatic realisation at how ill I had been. How little attention I had paid to my body. They healed every part of me. They changed bandages, they brought tea and, most of all, they made me laugh. Hard to believe that an ultrasound machine was still cutting edge when it helped to keep me here, but the NHS has ever moved forward and adapted. In 1987, Broderip ward became the UKs first ward dedicated to caring for HIV patients, when it was opened by Princess Diana. It changed the face of how people were treated and brought dignity to the gay community. I was proud to have ever been in it. There are photographs of the patients from that time taken by Gideon Mendel, which were published as a book called simply The Ward. In one of them, a nurse is leaning across her patient to give him a kiss on the cheek. It represents all the caring and kindness which I know first-hand from those who work in the NHS. My own daughter is now a doctor in their service and I wish Dr Johnson were still alive so I could tell her. I still have that long scar which divides me in half. Ive been thinking of having the fastening for a zipper tattooed at one end for no other reason than it would have made the Broderip nurses laugh. I thanked them then and with all my heart I thank them again. The Middlesex Hospital is gone now. In its place stand expensive flats and offices. A hospital had stood on that street since 1757, but was closed down in 2005. Perhaps with hindsight one should still be standing there now. PETER CAPALDI When you answer a call from your teenage daughter, you really dont want to hear a mans voice (from the big medical tent at the Notting Hill Carnival) on the other end saying, Oh hello, this is the medic, Ive got your daughters phone ?! Dont worry, shes all right. Dehydrated, stressed, fainted (and not even from booze, either). But all right. And brilliantly looked after by the NHS ambulance crew that got her to AandE and had already thoroughly checked her over by the time we, and our shredded nerves, arrived. Babies and bunions. Strokes and heart surgery. The NHS is always there. Not always on time. Not always perfect. Not always as loved and appreciated as it should be. But constant. Indeed, it is such a perennial part of our lives that I think lots of us dont realise (or have forgotten) that there was a time when it did not exist, and that there are places in the world where universal healthcare, available to all and not defined by the capacity to pay, is just a dream. Like most people, my interactions with the NHS have been many and (thankfully) generally low-key. I was born in Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow (quite possibly while actor Richard Wilson was serving as a research assistant in the laboratory there). I had the usual childhood tonsils operation (there was a fad for it in the 1960s) and, while at art school, rock and roll gave me a tragi-comic visit to casualty one Christmas Eve after a gig with my band in Paisley. Sweat and the Atomic Gel holding up my exuberant quiff combined and by the end of the gig I had to be guided into a taxi destined for AandE and a soothing eye bath accompanied by some hair product advice. After he had the obligatory west of Scotland 1980s heart bypass, my dad was all wires and tubes in intensive care, but gave us an encouraging thumbs up. He compared the operation to having been hit by a bus. This didnt put off another freshly carved up and heavily tattooed patient (tattoos were not fashionable in those days) from stomping around shouting, I want out of this ****ing place! A Glasgow hard man looking for trouble, he was put in his place by an old-school Glaswegian sister who told him to turn it down and stop disturbing the other patients. In the 1990s, I was playing an eighteenth-century fop in a BBC costume drama (rouge, lipstick, a beauty spot and powdered bouffant) and one scene called for me to be confronted and punched by the squire. The stunt punch went well in rehearsals and on the other actors shots, but when the camera reversed onto me, action is the last word I remember before I woke up on the floor with everyone mysteriously looking at me. When I put my hand to my temple it was wet. My fingers were covered in blood. I saw my co-star, the squire, sitting ashen-faced. Is it OK to say that the squire was played by Brian Blessed? And, also, have you seen the size of his fists? They look like Christmas hams. We had mistimed our movements and Brian, to his eternal regret, had knocked me out. And then there were two ambulance men. One of them said with grim urgency, Get his wig off! As his partner reached for my powdered locks, I squeaked out the words, Its my own hair! (I have a lot of hair.) Ambulance, casualty and nine stitches right along my eyebrow later (opened up like a boxers), and still fully made up and wearing a gold jacket, jabot, laced shirt, breeches, white tights and ornate buckled shoes, I was told I was being kept in for observation due to a head injury. And much as I love the BBC, no one showed up at the hospital except for the slight and nervous figure of my dresser. Could they have the very expensive costume back? Luckily it hadnt been stained with blood, and the costume department wanted to make sure it was kept safe. He had a poly bag which contained my own trousers and shirt. But no shoes. So, in a full ward, surrounded by the worse for wear and the unlucky, I spent the night in a hospital gown, fully made up and powered like Quentin Crisp on a bad day. The doctor, of course, was completely unfazed. Hed seen a lot worse. My family were (and are) much prouder of our NHS connections than anyone having a foothold in show business. My cousin Senga became a doctor, which in itself was a big enough deal. But then she married Harry Burns, who not only became chief medical officer for Scotland, but a sir into the bargain making Senga Lady Senga. And, of course, she was the resident go-to person for countless Capaldi relatives with any medical query. If Senga said it, it was gospel. Being Doctor Who was one thing, but being a real doctor that was on a whole other plane. Though when my mother was spending her last days in hospital in Glasgow, she loved to report that they called her Doctor Whos Mammy. As my sister and I sat with our ailing mother on New Years Eve, it was strangely comforting to hear the nurses behind the screens celebrating with Chinese takeaway, accompanied by the distant sound of revellers on the high street. The nurses care and compassion as we were losing our mum, and the tact of the doctor, are hard to overpraise. I was grateful, and I am grateful, to know that my family has been, and will be, cared for throughout our lives by probably the greatest idea that anyone has ever had: the NHS. Thank you. EMILIA CLARKE Why I Clap I believe my first real memory of my beloved NHS is of the kindness of a nurse when, as a very sugar-dependent three-year-old, Id climbed to the top of the bathroom cabinet and devoured an entire jar of sugary multivitamins under the cover of night-time. She very calmly told my slightly overwrought and worried mother that once the sugar high had worn off, there would be no lasting damage and that I would indeed be fit to fight another nursery day, and then some. Then there was the doctor who stitched up my brothers knee when he thought jumping onto broken glass while unpacking boxes in our new home was the best idea. He got a badge for bravery that day. The memories I will hold dearest, though, are ones that fill me with awe: of the nurses and doctors I knew by name when, in the weeks after my first brain haemorrhage, we watched the passing of time and the passing of patients in the Victor Horsley Ward at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queens Square, London. The nurse who suggested after everyone else in AandE struggled to find an answer when I was first admitted that maybe, just maybe I should have a brain scan. She saved my life. The anaesthetist who miraculously kept me giggling along with my entire family as he talked me through the process of what was about to happen to my brain and then counted me down from ten. The surgeon whose skill, quick thinking and sheer determination saved my life, while never letting on how close to death I had been. The countless unthanked nurses who changed my catheter and cleaned up my bile-coloured vomit on the days when I couldnt even manage water. The nurses who washed my body with care, generosity and love when I couldnt walk or sit, who carefully put me in pyjamas I recognised as my own when my morale dipped below the surface, with as much kindness as if I had been their own daughter. The cleaners who mopped the floor when my bedpan fell to the ground, shame and embarrassment filling the room along with disinfectant, and then a reassuring smile and a knowledge that theyd seen worse. The doctors who talked to me as a fully functioning adult on their daily rounds, looked me in the eye and told me everything they knew, but always finished with a joke that was enough to assure me that I was actually in control of what was happening to my brain and body, despite all evidence to the contrary. The phlebotomist who took my bloods every day who normally worked on the childrens ward, but who was sent my way by the nurses after a day or two of trying to get a hold of my tiny hidden veins. Yes, I got a lolly. No, I didnt feel a thing. The cooks who made my fish in white sauce with peas every day, despite it being a childs meal; it seemed to be the only thing I could eat at least some bites of. The nurse who brought my best friends note up from the cold outside when hed missed visiting hours but knew how much it would help me get through the night. She had been on her way home. When I was in ICU following a severe bout of dehydration-led aphasia, during which I lost my ability to speak coherently, I heard the patient in the bed next to me in the final moments of his life. One of the incredible nurses on duty allowed my mum to stay next to me and hold my hand instead of leaving, as every other patients loved ones were asked to do. She saw that, in this moment, she held my fragile mind, and its capacity to pray that I wouldnt be next, in her hands. In all those moments, over those three weeks, I was not, not ever, truly alone. These are only a handful of memories from those weeks as I waited to see if I could leave with my life intact. I could write a book about every moment Ive spent in the loving warmth of our NHS. When my dad passed away, the humour, love, kindness and empathy I received while witnessing his final moments are among the greatest acts of humanity I have known, or will ever know. And to each of us who has our own memories, moments both light and low they are just that. Moments in our lives. To the incredible people who work in the NHS it is their every day their morning, noon and night and we are made to feel as if each of ours is unique, treasured, one of a kind, when we all know that they have witnessed more deaths, births, heartbreaking tragedies and heart-soaring triumphs than any one of us could possibly fathom, and will continue to, every single day. This beloved institution that we have as a nation, that is OURS all of ours. These brave compassionate, kind, intelligent humans have held us up in every one of our darkest hours, so it seems only right that now, in these unprecedented times, the least we can do is hold them up during theirs. So every Thursday I clap. And I will keep clapping, keep donating, keep seeking out ways to show my thanks, because, NHS, youve given me enough reasons to last a lifetime. JAMIE OLIVER What an incredible outpouring of love our great nation has shown for the NHS and key workers during this pandemic. Its absolutely deserved and a joy to witness. The weekly clap for carers is super-powerful and shows just how much love and respect there is for all those wonderful, committed, passionate people that are working so hard, every day, to keep our health service going. Dear reader, if you want to do something to help your local NHS heroes, I think it would be really nice to rustle them up something delicious and nutritious to eat, so its one less thing for them to worry about. Im sharing here a couple of my classic recipes a flavour-packed, versatile veggie chilli as well as some cute little rye bread scones, which come out of the oven ready-portioned. Cook up a batch of chilli, portion it up with the scones and drop it off at your nearest NHS establishment. You just know thats gonna be appreciated. VERSATILE VEGGIE CHILLI Hearty and delicious, this alternative to traditional chilli con carne is sure to go down a treat. Simply double or triple the recipe to make a bigger batch. SERVES 4 TOTAL TIME 1 HOUR 500g sweet potatoes or butternut squash 1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus extra for sprinkling 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin, plus extra for sprinkling 1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling Olive oil 1 onion 2 mixed-colour peppers 2 cloves of garlic 1 bunch of fresh coriander (30g) 2 fresh mixed-colour chillies 2 x 400g tins of beans, such as kidney, chickpea, pinto, cannellini 2 x 400g tins of quality plum tomatoes lime or lemon juice, or vinegar, to taste METHOD Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Peel the sweet potatoes (or peel and deseed the squash), chop into bite-sized chunks, then place on a baking tray. Sprinkle with a pinch each of cayenne, cumin, cinnamon, sea salt and black pepper, drizzle with oil then toss to coat. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden and tender. Peel and roughly chop the onion. Halve, deseed and roughly chop the peppers, then peel and finely slice the garlic. Pick the coriander leaves, finely chopping the stalks. Deseed and finely chop the chillies. Meanwhile, put two tablespoons of oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat, then add the onion, peppers and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the coriander stalks, chillies and spices and cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes, or until softened and starting to caramelise, stirring occasionally. Add the beans, juice and all. Tip in the tomatoes, breaking them up with the back of a spoon, then stir well. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and leave to tick away for 25 to 30 minutes, or until thickened and reduced keep an eye on it, and add a splash of water to loosen if needed. Stir the roasted sweet potato or squash through the chilli with most of the coriander leaves, then taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. Finish with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice or a swig of vinegar, to taste, then scatter over the remaining coriander. Delicious served with yoghurt or soured cream, guacamole and rice, or tortilla chips. NUTRITION 369 calories, 10.1g fat (1.6g saturated), 21.5g protein, 58.3g carbs, 14.4g sugars, 0.9g salt, 12.9g fibre To see the recipe image, please visit jamieoliver.com/veggiechilli RYE BREAD SCONES MAKES 24 SCONES TOTAL TIME 40 MINUTES Olive oil 500g natural yoghurt 250g stoneground rye flour 250g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting 1 heaped teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 1 teaspoon runny honey 2 large free-range eggs 3 tablespoons organic jumbo oats METHOD Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Grease a couple of large baking trays with oil. Tip the yoghurt into a large mixing bowl with the flours, bicarbonate of soda, honey, one egg and a large pinch of sea salt. Stir with a fork until everything just comes together, then get in there with your hands and shape the dough into a ball. Dust a clean surface with flour and flatten the dough into a large disc, roughly 2.5cm thick. Stamp out twenty-four rounds with a 5cm crinkle cutter, dipping the cutter in flour if the dough starts to stick, placing them on the oiled trays as you go. Beat the remaining egg and use it to eggwash the scones, then sprinkle over the oats. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until puffed up and golden. NUTRITION 98 calories, 1.8g fat (0.8g saturated), 3.4g protein, 18.1g carbs, 2g sugar, 0.3g salt, 1.9g fibre To see the recipe image, please visit jamieoliver.com/ryescones NISH KUMAR The last time I went to hospital, it was perhaps for the most pathetic reason possible. In February 2020, at the age of thirty-four years, I got the end of a cotton bud stuck in my ear. Now, I understand there will be two immediate points of criticism and Id like to address them: 1.Cotton buds are so bad for the environment, how dare you contribute to the plastic waste. Its almost as if that Extinction Rebellion sticker on your laptop means nothing they were plastic-free ones. 2.Everyone knows you shouldnt be using those, theyre bad for your ears admittedly I have no defence here. I know I shouldnt be using them but it feels extremely satisfying in the short term, even though its ultimately self-destructive, like drinking alcohol or watching Question Time. So, I was having a good old dig. But then I withdrew the magic stick, only to discover the cotton end had vanished. In the words of the unfortunate teacher who marked my year nine geography coursework: This is dreadful and its entirely your fault, Nish. I snapped into action and called the cotton bud a d**k h**d. I then got my girlfriend to stand on a chair and look into my ear, in yet another incident in the course of our relationship that she describes as a boundary violation and a test of my saint-like patience. She couldnt see anything. We then consulted our in-house physician Dr Google, a wildly underqualified individual whose diagnoses are too broad to be of use you are both absolutely fine and utterly doomed and whose prescriptions are either boil your whole head or for you to use a product that enlarges a part of your body that is not in any way affected by your current predicament. Frankly, the only thing to recommend Dr Google is that he operated in the same hospital as Dr Bing, whose only diagnosis is please just ask Dr Google I have no idea. And of course theres also the rather old-fashioned Dr Ask-Jeeves, who always just sends you to the apothecary to fetch leeches. Anyway, with no useful word from Dr G, I called NHS 111 and they gravely informed me that Id have to go to hospital. So at 1 a.m. I headed over to the hospital and we waited in AandE with people who had legitimate reasons for being there, whilst I was there because something I knew I wasnt supposed to be doing anyway had gone wrong. The doctor who saw me would have been well within her rights to smack me in the mouth. Instead, she patiently listened and then had a look in my ears with an otoscope (thank you, Dr Google). In that situation, it turns out there are two key phrases you dont want to hear: 1.OK, theres nothing in there. Im guessing it fell off after you pulled it out. The reason you are feeling pressure in your ear that you think is the cotton, is that you have a substantial build-up of wax and when you used the cotton bud you pushed it deeper inside. 2.By the way big fan. Perhaps the worst place to be recognised as any kind of public figure is when a doctor is looking in your ear, at a candle shops worth of wax that has tricked you into thinking you had blocked your ear with the end of a cotton bud. I got the name of some ear drops and we skulked off with my girlfriend saying something about a last straw. I couldnt really hear her because of the wax. Anyway, why am I telling you this story? Well, a few reasons. Firstly, the doctor recognised me so I am famous. Thats important to note. There are a lot of high-profile people in this book and I feel insecure about being included, so Im really just putting this out there: someone recognised me from television, OK? So that means Im the same as Paul McCartney. Second, at no point did it ever cross my mind that this could ever cost me money. I wasnt being charged despite it all being my fault. The NHSs motto should be free even for morons. And third, because when I start to consider why I am grateful for the NHS, the simple truth is that I dont know where to start. How can I begin to express my gratitude to its founders, who pursued an ideal of a healthcare system that would be free at the point of delivery? A system born out of the rubble of the Second World War, as a country dragged to the brink dared to imagine a better future for itself and its citizens. Where do I start to express gratitude to the NHS staff present at my birth, at my grandfathers heart operation and my grandmothers pneumonia last winter? How can I express my admiration for the dedicated healthcare workers, among them my cousin, who have endured a decade of budget cuts, and yet still, in the hour of our need, have disregarded their own safety to protect us from Covid-19? The truth is, I cant. So I wont. And Ill just talk about my waxy ears. KATIE PIPER Dear NHS, I arrived unconscious, partially clothed and faceless. My identity melted away. My status wasnt important to you; neither was my profession nor my possessions. No judgement, just good-quality care and fair treatment for all. Triaged as: Female, 24 years old, 22 per cent full thickness acid burns to face and body, ingestion of acid and currently no sight in either eye. I could have been just another admission to your already bursting wards, a number on your sheet. But you treated me as if I were your own. Like the daughter, sister and niece that I was. Its fair to say we kind of moved in together, me and you, Katie and the NHS. You let me sleep over for three solid months. We started in ICU and I gradually tried out every bed in the house: high-dependency, burns unit, main ward, endoscopy, the eye clinic, ENT, physio, plastics, psychology, maxillofacial, orthodontic and dermatology. Quite the list when we all thought upon arrival that the only additional room I would be seeing beyond ICU was the morgue. I skipped a bit of our time together, spending some time in a coma, but that was when you turned your care to my traumatised family, supporting them mentally as if they were the ones sick in the bed. Answering the anxious questions with gentle but professional truths, sharing your years of experience to help us with our very new and raw experience. Your compassion, empathy and dedication goes way beyond your job role. No lunch breaks, clock watching or legging it out of the door the minute the shift ends. Staying on past the end of shifts to hold hands, working unpaid overtime. Care and compassion is the driving force always at the forefront of your exhausted minds. I didnt realise it on the day we met, but that was it, I would never fully leave you again; you have been in and out of my life, putting me back together and keeping me alive still to this day, twelve years on. Weve been through some real highs and lows together, but you gave me a second chance at life when many feared my time was up. Then you helped me to give life to my two baby girls from beginning to the end you held my hand once again. NHS, youve taken me from victim to survivor, and finally to proud mother. How will I ever repay you? I winced when I heard people publicly discuss you, people who didnt understand you or what you were doing every single day; what you witnessed, what you absorbed and what you gave. As they debated whether we needed you, I felt an anger rise and a tear drop. You are the backbone of our country; take you away and we all fall down. Thank you, NHS. I owe my life to you you fixed me when I was broken, battered and hopeless. You made the impossible possible and I will never forget each and every one of you. We are privileged, we are spoilt by you and you must not be taken advantage of. You are what puts Britain on the healthcare map. NHS, you truly are the heart and pride of this country. Love, Katie P x BRIDGET CHRISTIE The NHS delivered both my babies. They were born in Homerton Hospital, Hackney, three and a half years apart. The first birth, in April 2007, wasnt as fun as Id imagined. In fact, a doctor told my husband we were lucky. If itd been fifty years earlier, they mightve lost one of us. I dont know how old the doctor thought I was, but I remember being very insulted by that. It didnt start well. I was two weeks overdue for a start, and when my waters finally broke, on my bedroom carpet, a mouse ran over them. We lived in a flat above a deli and were constantly infested. I screamed and shouted, Get off my amniotic fluid, you verminous twat! It really ruined the moment. This precious liquid had kept my baby safe all these months and now a mouse had gone on it. On the way to the hospital we got told off by the police for driving too slowly, and a bit further on we had to do a U-turn and were diverted because there was a body lying in the middle of the road in front of us. A lone policeman had just got there and was cordoning off the area with police tape. I thought about the mans own birth. He was someones new baby once, a mothers pride and joy. Hed been held up, kissed and cuddled, shown off and photographed. Hed been fed and nurtured and read stories and tucked up in bed. And now he was here. In the road. Alone. I felt deeply and profoundly sad and we drove the rest of the way in silence. Then we couldnt find anywhere to park. Unbelievably, I wasnt even IN labour yet and a midwife sent me home, which was annoying because wed just paid for parking. I got home, lay on the sofa, had staring competitions with the mice and ate a hot curry but none of it helped. I just wasnt progressing. It was like being back at school. The next day we went back in. Three shifts of midwives and thirty-six hours later, my baby still wouldnt come out. Hes still like this now; hes just swapped my uterus for his room. By now, the babys heart rate was all over the shop and I wasnt doing great either, so it was decided the best thing to do was to take me down to theatre and get this baby out. I thought all labours were like this and wasnt overly concerned. On the way down, I kept vomiting into a cardboard bowler hat and had a consent form shoved in my face but didnt sign it. My husband put some weird blue plastic clothes on and someone put my feet in stirrups. Everyone was really jolly and made me feel very confident. After the maximum amount of goes with a ventouse and some forceps from medieval times, I was told it was really time for an emergency C-section now and could I just sign the bloody form? I begged them to try one more time, which they did, and my son was finally born as Teenage Kicks by The Undertones blared out of the radio. He was enormous, grey, had a cut over his eye from the forceps and looked really annoyed. The doctor stitched me up as a porter watched on with a reassuring aloofness. I probably shouldve had that C-section because that birth gave me massive haemorrhoids, which Ive had ever since. Even my health visitor commented on them. I dont think shed seen anything like it. My friends tell me I can have them surgically removed but Ive chosen to wear them with pride, like a badge of honour. My second birth was easy peasy. During my last trimester, I developed a rare liver disorder called obstetric cholestasis. It can be quite dangerous in pregnancy and in some cases cause stillbirth. Id been maniacally scratching the soles of my feet and my palms like a madwoman for a couple of weeks. Then, by pure chance, I read about these weird symptoms in a pregnancy booklet called Emmas Diary Id picked up from my GP surgery (thanks the NHS!). I called my GP and told her I might have this liver thing. The surgery was just about to close but she told me to come in, give her a urine sample and shed send it off to Homerton. At 5 p.m. on 31 December 2010 she called me to say my results were back, I did have it and I should get down to the maternity ward and have the baby checked over, and thats where I spent New Years Eve. Happy New Year, Homerton! The baby was constantly monitored for another week and a half and then a nice consultant suggested I be induced, just to be on the safe side. It was such an easy, calm labour. I remember saying to my midwife, Cheryl, When is everyone else getting here? and she said this WAS everyone and looked a bit insulted. I couldnt believe it! ONE person! My sons birth needed about twenty! The baby was born very quickly. Too quickly for any proper pain relief. But it was fine. I knelt up, faced the wall and prayed, which helped a lot, even though Im not particularly religious, and my precious, tiny baby was born arm first, like Superman. Im a massive fan of pain relief and I wouldve absolutely had everything available to me if thered been time, but this was a good pain and Im glad I felt it. The only complication was that the umbilical cord was so short Cheryl had to call for someone else to cut it while she held the baby. Thanks to the NHS for my beautiful babies and my magnificent piles. LORRAINE KELLY It was February 2012. One minute I was nervously sitting atop a horse for a charity challenge and the next I was being swiftly, expertly and gently moved onto a stretcher and rushed to hospital by kind paramedics. I had always been a bit scared of horses and this was only my second riding lesson. As it was all to raise funds for a childrens charity, I thought I would be perfectly safe. I couldnt have been more wrong. The horse had reared up, thrown me off its back and smashed a massive iron-clad hoof into my thigh as I lay helpless on the ground. I was in complete shock, lost three pints of blood and needed help urgently. And, of course, the NHS was there to pick up the shattered pieces. In the ambulance I was given morphine, but much more importantly I was given reassurance. They held my hand and told me I was doing fine and not to worry that the blue light was flashing and the siren blaring. I was rushed to the nearest hospital, St Georges in Tooting, London, but I honestly dont remember all that much about being taken to AandE. It was all a blur of busy but controlled efficiency. The one thing I knew for certain was that I was in the best possible hands and so I wasnt scared. Though I was lucky. A few centimetres either way and the artery could have been severed or my pelvis completely shattered. It is completely crazy what goes through your befuddled brain in times of crisis. As they cut through my clothes and underwear, I remember thinking that my mum was right (shes always right) and I was glad I had heeded her advice of wearing clean, matching knickers and bra, In case you have an accident. I was in London but my husband Steve and daughter Rosie were miles away in Dundee. As they headed south, my fantastic friend and colleague Emma Gormley rushed to the hospital. She says she will never forget seeing me being wheeled into the operating theatre and apologising for probably not being able to make it into work the next day. The operation lasted five hours. The skill of NHS surgeon Martin Vesely and his team meant I didnt need a skin graft, but I had to have hundreds of stitches on a wound that looked like a massive shark bite. I had to stay in hospital for over a week to recover and Martin was brilliant. He had the best possible bedside manner. Every morning on his rounds he would give me an update and tell me clearly how I was progressing, and then ask if I had any questions. Like most patients, especially those on strong painkillers and sleeping pills, I struggled a bit to take everything in. But Martin did an amazingly kind and considerate thing. He would go to the bottom of my bed and simply wait for a heartbeat, giving me just enough time to think to ask him something that had been preying on my mind. He also treated me like a person and not a serious leg injury and that made all the difference in the world. From the nurses to the cleaners, the physios to the volunteers who came round with books and magazines, I was so well looked after, but it was clear resources were stretched to breaking point. One of the hospital wards assigned to the elderly most of whom had some form of dementia had to be closed due to an MRSA infection and the patients were moved in beside us. The patience of the nursing staff was just unbelievable. They had to deal with poor bewildered souls wailing in distress all through the night as well as aggressive behaviour that came out of nowhere. One nurse even had a full bedpan thrown at her, but she simply cleaned herself up, changed her uniform and carried on with her shift. Last year I was able to go back to St Georges to say a proper thank you to all of the staff at the coalface who helped put me back together again. It was so good to have a chance to express my gratitude face to face and I found it extremely emotional. As you could expect, they all said they were just doing their job and of course my accident, although it scarred my leg and my life, was just one tiny droplet in a vast ocean of routine emergencies they deal with on a daily basis. All day, every day, they bring new life into the world, heroically battle death and devastation and give comfort to the desperate and the bereaved. Then they get up and do it all over again. This latest crisis has shown us all just how bloody lucky we are to have our brilliant band of NHS workers taking care of us all. We must make sure we tell them how much they are valued and never, ever take them for granted. And we need to make sure they are properly looked after and protected so they can continue to do their jobs, which, as we know, are the most important in the world. ANDREW MARR Like almost everyone, Ive had lots of NHS experiences, from possible cancers to the births of my children. But by far the most significant was having my major stroke seven years ago. It had happened overnight and I had woken up lying on the floor unable to get up. It was terrifying and yet, weirdly, from the moment I was strapped onto a stretcher and carried downstairs into an ambulance to Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, I felt I was in completely safe hands and that somehow everything would be fine. From the rush across south London, siren blaring, to waking up in bed a few days later after just dodging death, it would prove to be one heck of a journey. There were bad moments. An operation to clear a blood clot in my carotid artery failed. My family were gathered together and told I probably would not make it, and then again, later on, to say that if I did, my brain would be severely affected and I would probably spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. Even after I came round, quite disabled, there was a long haul back through rehabilitation before I could walk even a short distance on my own, or talk clearly. Again, that was scary. But what I remember today is the openness and the friendliness of the doctors, nurses and therapists around me. The doctors were frank in their explanations and treated me as an adult. The nurses worked endlessly but somehow retained a wry, salty good humour. Two physiotherapists, one from Eastern Europe and one from Australia, went many extra miles to get me going even rigging up a homemade autocue in the gym so that I could practise before getting back to work when my first job was to interview the then-prime minister, David Cameron. I felt I wasnt surrounded by sickness, but by good people. From Charing Cross Hospital I went to the National Neurological Hospital at Queens Square for further therapy on my non-functioning left arm. Again, just great people, a thoroughly democratic air in the wards and a huge deal of laughter. For a while, I had an agonising shoulder problem, eventually sorted with an injection into the joint. The jovial South African doctor, bearing a hypodermic syringe about the same size as the Second World War howitzer, told me: Ive got good news, and less good news. The good news is that once Ive done this, you will be fine. You will sleep like a baby. The not quite so good news, Andrew, is that this is going to effing well hurt. It did. But I quickly discovered that its quite hard to howl and laugh at the same time. Our hospitals run on taxpayers money, world-class training and inspiring dedication. But beyond all that, they run on humour, and humanity. It isnt the buildings or the awesome technology that we stand to applaud when we clap for the NHS. Its the grit, the realism and the gutsy humour of the extraordinary people who keep it going. I wasnt exactly lucky to have a stroke. But I was very lucky to have it here. DAVID NICHOLLS Extraordinary Machine I was born and then, for years, nothing much. I had jabs and check-ups of course, and dentistry free in those days and at fifteen my first pair of NHS spectacles, the silver-framed John Lennon specs I craved so much that I flunked the eye test to get them. At university there was an occasional GP visit; the cold self-diagnosed as glandular fever, the rashes and bad skin that came with forgoing fresh vegetables and sunlight. But there were no calls for an ambulance, no catastrophes. Our two children were born in London hospitals and we took it for granted that there would be tests and scans, letters and leaflets and someone to answer the phone when the moment came. Im not sure any birth can be described as straightforward, least of all by the father, but both children were healthy and for the next ten years, our encounters with the NHS were common-or-garden rashes, sore throats, a stitch in the scalp for my son when a trampoline party got out of hand. Each time we thanked the courteous, efficient staff and went back to our normal lives. Like electricity or water in the tap, healthcare would always be there, free at the point of delivery, based on clinical need and not the ability to pay. My father died in a hospital, cared for by compassionate staff. Beginnings and endings perhaps that was all wed ever need from the NHS. Perhaps there would be no disasters. We were in Amsterdam on a half-term family trip when we noticed that my daughter was quieter than usual, not herself. Relaxation was discouraged on this holiday and so perhaps she was just exhausted by all that enforced sightseeing, the stomping from museum to landmark to museum. But on returning home, she remained pale and listless, pushing away her food, sleeping too much, the whites of her eyes the colour of butter. We took her to the GP, expecting that thered be a few days off school. Some blood was taken. And then, in a lab somewhere, a note was taken, a phone call was made and somehow it was as if some extraordinary machine had come into life. We were told to go to hospital now, immediately, to pack a bag, she might be staying. On the ward, there were more tests, a cannula was fitted, large doses of antibiotics, vitamins and steroids administered. There was no diagnosis but we were left in no doubt that this was serious and would require more than a day off school. Questions. Had we come back from abroad? India? No, Holland. Eaten any seafood or raw meat? Gone swimming in rivers? Scans showed swelling and scars on her liver, the word cirrhosis was used, surely a mistake because thats what alcoholics got and this was a ten-year-old girl. Throughout the injections and ultrasounds and consultations, she was patient, polite and upbeat but every now and then a wet glint in her eye betrayed her fear. A harrowing biopsy and then the diagnosis: auto-immune hepatitis, the body attacking itself. We celebrated her eleventh birthday on the paediatric liver ward. She remained in hospital for the best part of two months, my partner and I taking turns to stay over, sleeping uneasily on the pull-out bed by her side, fidgeting through the perpetual jet lag of hospital life. During the long days, wed watch the young patients come and go, many in a far more precarious state than our daughter, the parents fraught and haggard. We learned the nurses names and acclimatised to the rhythm of the ward, saw the long shifts begin and end and came to understand that the events which had seemed so terrifying and life-altering to us were the daily business of the staff. The machine had not come into life. It had been running all the time, and it was the quiet expertise, patience and dedication of the staff that kept it humming away. Now, in this current crisis, it is operating at its highest pitch and with the additional dark twist that those who work to save the lives of others are putting themselves at risk in doing so. God knows we owed a debt already, but every time I turn on the news these days Im reminded of the limitations of the words thank you. Some day the crisis will pass, albeit with a terrible toll, and the NHS will return to the everyday task of keeping 70 million people alive and well. In the meantime, as I write, my daughter is upstairs in her bedroom, learning the endings of French verbs. She is fine, happy and healthy thanks to the workings of that extraordinary organisation something for which we will always be grateful, will never take for granted. KONNIE HUQ My parents came over to the UK from Bangladesh in the 1960s after my dad graduated and was offered a job with Prudential in Holborn. Although it was heart-wrenching for them to leave their family and friends behind, they wanted a better life for their children than they felt their massively overpopulated and impoverished country could ever offer. After a few years spent settling in, they started their family my two sisters and I were all born in NHS hospitals and so our cradle-to-grave journeys began. My mum, although only basically educated, was an extremely intelligent and incredibly resourceful woman. She was also a whizz in the kitchen and could conjure up feasts out of nowhere. Even when shed been working full time and fasting for Ramadan, I remember she would come home and rustle up a tableful of dishes for iftar (breaking fast) every single one of them delicious, even though she hadnt been able to try a thing herself. My earliest memories of my mum are of her comforting me when I was ill with a fever or a tummy ache. The calming touch of a mum by your bedside stroking your head is irreplaceable. If the illness persisted the next day and I had to stay off school, wed go to the local doctors surgery. They were always on hand to give us the magic green paper. She would swap it for medicine; sometimes it was even banana-flavoured. Taking it made me feel grown-up. The whole process was reassuring. I felt safe. Im not sure at what point I actually realised how brilliant the magic green paper really was, that it let ALL children no matter who, and many more besides have free medicine to make them better if ever they got ill. Was there ever a penny-dropping moment or was it something that I just took for granted? When I was fourteen, my parents saved up enough money to take us all back to their homeland. Bangladesh is a beautiful country, but one with 161 million people living in a space just over half the size of the UK. I remember my first encounter of the capital, seeing people hobbling about with missing limbs, blind people begging, poverty and illness everywhere. No magic green papers here. Growing up, I was lucky enough never to need much more than the little green papers until my thirties. Though admittedly I did slip and hit my head in the Blue Peter garden one time! Thankfully, I was given the all-clear one quick CT scan later in an NHS hospital, of course. All that changed when my dad got cancer. My smart, jovial, good-humoured father. I was devastated. The suppliers of the little green papers came good again, this time supplying radiotherapy. Radiotherapy that prolonged his life long enough to see my children both born in NHS hospitals. He died the same year I had my youngest. Much like my son had come into the world, my dad had gone out of it, cared for and looked after by amazing staff in an NHS hospital. I was by his side. They helped me too. After over fifty years of marriage my mum was going solo. She had looked after Dad in his final years: cleaning him, feeding him, watching him deteriorate. Time for new beginnings. In 2012, when the Olympics came to London amid much excitement, my sister took my mum as a treat. But my mum found it overwhelming and claustrophobic. She wanted to leave instantly. Strange. She was always the life and soul, this was her kind of thing. We thought she had depression. But slowly other strange things started to happen. She began burning food. My mum had never burnt a single thing in all her years for her to even overcook a dish was unheard of. Then more things changed. She began to look a bit scruffier my mum, who had always prided herself on her appearance. She started to get forgetful my mum, multi-tasker extraordinaire. She became more bad-tempered my mum, usually so measured and good-natured. The suppliers of the little green papers did some tests. My mum had early onset dementia. It progressed fast. Only a year on from the Olympics, we couldnt even let her out of the house alone. As I watched my baby and toddler learn new words, I watched her forget them. Every day, as their little brains absorbed everything around them, things fell out of hers at an ever-increasing pace. As my eldest ditched nappies, my mum donned them. Each time I saw her, I would mourn different aspects of her. Well never laugh about that joke again. She cant tell me that story any more. She wont be able to teach me that recipe now. Does she even know who I am? It wasnt long before she was hospital-bound the same NHS hospital my father had died in. My mother, conjuror of amazing food, was losing the ability to swallow. What now? A feeding tube? Starve to death? Starvation for my mum who was always so intent on feeding others? The irony. So many questions. So many decisions. So many unknowns. The hospital staff overworked and underpaid guided us through every step of the way. The doctors, the nurses, the support workers we all had our favourites. I felt my mum did too. Id sometimes see a flicker of recognition in her face or joy in her eyes, but it was hard to know for sure. Among the decisions the staff had presented us with was permission to not resuscitate. It was a sunny day in the hospital the day she passed away. As with my father before her, I was there, holding her hand when her eyes finally glazed over. The staff had known and prepared me for what was coming as though they were oracles of the future. It brings me great comfort to know that when I go, should I need them, the suppliers of the little green papers will be there for me too, just as they were there for my parents. They are here for us all. They wont leave us limbless, hobbling in the street. For none of us are immune and well all go in the end. I have a one-in-three chance of having the hereditary form of dementia my mum had. My aunt had it, my great uncle had it Im one of three sisters. The NHS offered me a test to find out but I think Ill take my chances. So, thank you NHS for caring for us and supporting us. Unconditionally. From cradle to grave. How amazing is that? How lucky are we? KATHY BURKE A pain A worry A chat A bed A wipe A jab A wince A tear A relief A breath A smile A cuppa And a thanks To the NHS SIR DAVID JASON The most urgently I have needed the NHS was when I had an argument with a hover mower. I was renovating a cottage in Crowborough at the time and wanted to get the place looking nice for visitors. Reader, the advice never to mow the lawn in slippy shoes should be heeded, as mowing down an incline I slipped and my natural reaction was to pull whatever I was holding onto towards me, which, at that moment in time, was a whirring blade. Ouch! I found myself in an ambulance on the way to the local hospital. The AandE department were fantastic and also skilled in cutting off my shoe, which I hadnt dared to remove myself in case I found a few too many loose toes in there. When a brave nurse eventually took a closer look, she found the big toe attached to my foot by the smallest amount of skin and two other toes badly injured (I hope youve had your lunch). A surgeon was called and I ended up on an operating table, followed by three days in hospital. When they told me off for not wearing the appropriate footwear for mowing, I very nearly didnt have a leg to stand on (well, a foot). All joking aside, the NHS were there when I needed them and took care of me in the most professional and caring way. Fortunately I wasnt working at the time, but throughout my career I have had to stand on my own two feet and, thanks to the NHS, I have been able to do so. Footnote: wear sensible shoes when mowing. Three cheers for the NHS! JUNO DAWSON I am often quite embarrassed to be British. I want to remain positive, so I wont go into why, but I sometimes will think of things I like about being British. 1.The NHS. 2.Yorkshire puddings. 3.Our sense of the absurd; I truly believe no other nation in the world could have come up with The Rocky Horror Show, Absolutely Fabulous or Fleabag. 4.We make the best pop music. This is indisputable. 5.Sarcasm. 6.Our cavalier attitude to alcohol consumption (and how it horrifies Americans). 7.We have all the different weathers. 8.We swear LOADS and have the most colourful curse words. Again, it thoroughly appals the Yanks. 9.The Spice Girls. 10.The vast majority of people employ a robust, inclusive and tolerant live and let live approach in their communities. They have open hearts and minds and treat people with politeness, at worst, and go so far as kindness on a good day. But Id like to return to the first one. The NHS is the best thing about the United Kingdom. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong, sorry. People all over the world point to our National Health Service as best practice. Politicians (Trump) who dont want to provide free healthcare for nefarious economic purposes are terrified of their citizens coming here and seeing what we have and demanding it back home. The NHS isnt perfect by any stretch, but thats on a practical level because spoiler alert some politicians would rather strip it back since running something free is phenomenally expensive. The very richest people in the country often complain that theyd like to keep their money or buy golden helicopters instead of paying for the NHS via their taxes. Those people are the pits. Anyway, rant over. The NHS is brilliant. It has done brilliant things for everyone I know. During the coronavirus pandemic, my father became very sick. We dont know what caused it, but he fell into a diabetic coma. Although the NHS was already stretched to breaking point, paramedics came to his house and saved his life. No, really. After he was admitted to his local hospital, and feeling a bit better, the consultant told him he had been mere hours away from kidney failure or death. Even during the worst crisis in the services history, those doctors, nurses and paramedics saved my father. I get my dad for longer because of those people, and they did not charge him once he was discharged. Like most of us, I started my life in an NHS hospital Bradford Royal Infirmary. Since then, they have patched up my head when I fell against a radiator as a kid; they took out my janky wisdom teeth; fixed a broken nose; gave me medication to aid my panic attacks and, yes, supported me in becoming a woman. For me, becoming a woman required more medical intervention than it does for most. Im sure there are some people who think my medical gender transition was a zany use of NHS resources, but I take it to be evidence that we have a system that cares about people. Whole people. Each of us will need the NHS for different reasons. We all play hard and fast with all sorts of things that are bad for us: sunshine, booze, cake, bacon, fags, casual sex, Instagram. I think we should never question why people need the NHS because we all will. I needed the NHS for my gender. I was deeply unhappy pre-transition. I could not find peace. It manifested in a smorgasbord of mental health issues and risky, ill-advised behaviours. In July 2014, I went to my NHS GP ready to be laughed out of his office. I wasnt. Instead, he listened, for half an hour and in great detail, to my story of how Id come to this conclusion over the course of thirty years. My GP referred me to a specialist clinic in Northampton where a further two doctors agreed I had something called gender dysphoria and told me they could offer me medical assistance if I wanted it. I did, and the rest is history. I take two pills a day, a nurse gives me an injection every three months and I pop back to Northampton once a year so they can check how Im getting on. Needless to say, Im happier than Ive ever been. Transition was the medicine I needed. So when I say, I wouldnt be who I am without the NHS, I really, really mean it, on a literal level. They enabled me to live. They saved my life. JILLY COOPER Im mad about the National Health Service. For a start, if I lived in most other countries, as an eighty-three-year-old I would be bankrupted by forking out for the Everest of painkillers, sleeping pills, soluble aspirins, blood pressure tablets, statins, eyedrops, etc, that I need to take to get me through each day! But apart from my free meds, I love the NHS because we have a miraculous local surgery whose charming receptionists always manage to find a way to fit one in with an appointment. Glamorous framed photographs of former doctors adorn the sky-blue walls of the waiting room and one only has time for a quick flip through Country Life or The Lady before a smiling doctor or nurse summons you, immediately making you feel better. One particular doctor in fact is so good-looking that ladies need pills to reduce rocketing blood pressure before they even go into his consulting room. We are so lucky too here in the Cotswolds to have marvellous hospitals with really sympathetic and understanding doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers, to name but a few. Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, for example, cared for me beautifully when, years ago, I was admitted for eight days after attempting to rescue a ladybird in my hall and, upon trying to set it free on the lawn, I managed to fall over some rocks and cut open my leg, which became badly infected. Nor did the same dear hospital ever reprove me a few years later when, after a much too liquid lunch, I sauntered down the garden to feed the fish and managed to crack four ribs and puncture a lung by falling into the pond. Their kindness, care and attention remain firmly in my memory. Nor have I ever appreciated the NHS more than when my dear husband Leo was dying of that most creepy and insidious illness, Parkinsons disease. Not just our local doctors, but Lizzie, the darling district nurse, would drop in to brighten our lives and the National Health carers would drive through the darkest nights to help make Leo comfortable in bed. On the night he died, carers Hazel and Jen came and laid out his body, and have remained firm friends ever since. So today, I am not surprised that National Health doctors, nurses, carers and support staff are risking their infinitely precious lives going into the valley of death on twelve-hour shifts with often inadequate protection. As brave as the Battle of Britain pilots, they are fighting World War III against this horrendous coronavirus. One wants to clap and cheer them not just at eight oclock on a Thursday, but at every second of every hour of every day. NHS stands for Nicest, Helpfulest Saviours. Please God save all you can. EMILY MAITLIS The thing on Milos foot is getting bigger. No one knows where it came from. Or what it is. We have tried ignoring it, cajoling it, prodding it and staring it down. He returns from a school trip eight hours walking a day and now it is huge, angry and ugly. It looks like a hostile takeover of the whole big toe. It needs to be seen. At the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital it is greeted with something close to pathological ecstasy. They have not been shown a thing like this before. A thing asking to be popped and drained. The very mention makes Milo go white. This is what I became a doctor for, the medic tells me, with the excitement of a kid whos just won a day out at Alton Towers. It is almost certainly not true, but I am loving his enthusiasm. The nervous fourteen-year-old at my side, meanwhile, is burying his fears in sulky teenage nonchalance. He is inscrutable. He cannot meet their gaze. He gives nothing away. And somehow the doctors manage to find this endearing too. Milo has the lowest pain threshold of anyone I know. He was born early, which probably has no bearing on anything whatsoever, but its what I tell myself when I see him clench up with anguish. We have shouted down entire GP surgeries at the prospect of a flu jab. The vaccination needle has machete-like proportions in Milos mind. This time, it is inconceivable a doctor will take any instrument to his foot. I look between the doctor and Milo. I look between Milo and the doctor. There is a quiet stalemate where we all ponder, in slow motion, what could happen next. Then, into the growing silence, someone mentions laughing gas. I forget if it was the doctor himself or the bemused nurse at his side, watching her young patients stern, unyielding face. Within moments, a cylinder is rolled into the room. It looks big enough to inflate 500 helium balloons. Milos interest is piqued. This is a story he can take back to his friends. He is now genuinely curious to see what it can do. They place a scuba-like breathing apparatus over his face. All I can see of it is furrowed eyebrows and sceptical eyes. He breathes. The furrow goes. And the jaw relaxes. He reaches for my hand. Yes, my hand! For the first time in a decade he wants to hold my hand! I refuse to believe it is drug-related. He is just feeling particularly tactile right now. Then the first bubble of laughter washes over him. And the next. He is now holding my hand more firmly and gently swinging my arm, as if we are off for a summery stroll in the park. Hes almost ready for a full-on hug. There are little sighs and gurgles. More giggles. This child is having the time of his life. I want some. The doctor has meanwhile set to work on the foot thing. He works with a speed and intensity that suggests there is an optimum length of time for laughing gas inhalation. Too much and the patient can end up turning a bit green. Milo and I have entered a new land: we are Dorothy finding Oz, we are linking arms and trotting along with lions and scarecrows and poppies and lollipops. How we laugh! The anecdotes we tell! The memories that surface! What a time to be alive! I am brought back to the room by the sound of a rather surprising pop followed by an actual eruption. There is now essence of toe on the doctors scrubs. And a look of utter satisfaction on the doctors face. Milo has felt nothing. Giggling. Reminiscing. Hugging. In his own little laughing gas world. And within minutes it is all sewn back up. Stitches, sterilisation, bandages. The neatest package of toe I have ever seen. Milo, I say tentatively, its all done. This brilliant team have done it. Youre done. But Milo is not quite ready to give up the gas yet. It has to be gently but emphatically prised from his tight grip. There is no hurry, the team tell us. Take your time. But Milo is in danger of taking this too literally. He seems happy to settle in for the rest of the afternoon. When he realises the cannister is on wheels he suggests we perhaps take it home. Finally, it is me, comically, who boots my own son from the hospital bed where he has managed, against all the odds, to have the time of his life during the most skilful, professional, efficient piece of outpatient surgery I can ever imagine. I am trying to find our team to say thanks. It has been bewilderingly fast, effortlessly empathetic and highly impressive. But they have already moved on seamlessly to the next kid with a dodgy something else. Come back for a check-up on Tuesday, we are told at the outpatients desk. We can change the dressing with laughing gas again, if you need it. And at this, Milo instantly perks up. Well be back. Like Arnie, essentially. But with a slightly lower pain threshold. BILL BRYSON In the late summer of 1973, quite unexpectedly, I stumbled into a job as a nursing assistant at an old and magnificent psychiatric hospital in Surrey called Holloway Sanatorium. I didnt know the first thing about nursing care. I was just a young American college student hitchhiking around Europe, and was supposed to fly home in a couple of days to resume my studies, but two girls I knew who worked at the hospital urged me, during an awfully agreeable evening in a local pub, to apply for a job. The hospital, they explained, was perpetually desperate for menial staff, so impulsively the following day I applied, and the next thing I knew Id been given a big set of keys, two grey suits, some white lab coats and instructions to present myself at a place called Tuke Ward at 7 a.m. the following morning. Tuke Ward was high up in the building with splendid views over the hospital grounds and village of Virginia Water beyond. The patients, all male and all long-stay, were placid and cheerful and more or less looked after themselves. They went off every morning after breakfast to occupational therapy or gardening detail and didnt return till teatime. The charge nurse, an amiable fellow aptly named Jolly, likewise cleared off just after breakfast the first morning and I seldom saw him again. Having expected to be on the way back to the United States, instead I found myself in sole charge of an empty ward in a large English hospital. I passed the days sitting with my feet up, reading old copies of Titbits and Readers Digest that I found in the back of a large store cupboard, and from these I learned all about this new and remarkable country that I had now become part of. I have seldom been more enthralled. I learned that there was something you could eat in Britain called blancmange, a pastime called morris dancing, a drink called barley water. I learned of the existence of Morecambe and Wise, seaside rock, Belisha beacons, milk floats, Poppy Day and a kind of strange voluntary prison known as a holiday camp. What an intriguing country! Every page was a revelation. Then a second wonderfully unexpected thing happened. A few days after I started work, I found a note from Mr Jolly instructing me to go to a nearby ward to borrow a bottle of Thorazine, a medication. So I went to the neighbouring ward and, while I stood waiting for the bottle to be fetched, I saw across the room a pretty young nurse sitting with an elderly patient, spooning food into his mouth and dabbing his lips with a serviette, and I remember dreamily thinking: Thats just the sort of person I need. By chance, later that evening I met the young nurse at a social gathering, and we got to talking and it turned out that she was just the sort of person I need. Her name was Cynthia. We were married two years later. So the National Health Service has given me a wife, a new country and nearly half a century of kindly, world-class healthcare. Thats why I stand on the front steps on Thursday evenings these days and bang a pot with a wooden spoon and shout, Thank you, NHS! at the top of my voice. I am so pleased and grateful that I have decided to keep up the practice for ever. REVEREND RICHARD COLES I used to have a parishioner Ill call him Pete whose life was chaotic, sometimes spectacularly chaotic, thanks to the extravagant cocktail of alcohol and psychoactive drugs he used to make his existence bearable, if not always easy. From time to time, this would lead to hospitalisation and, because he liked me, I would accompany him to AandE, each time longing that the wait would be short, the assessment straightforward, the admission unproblematic. I liked him too his honesty, his comedy, his paradoxical self-possession through self-destruction but he was really hard work sometimes and I was impatient with him too often, and too quickly. One night, he was even more than usually distressed and I found myself sitting with him in a bay in AandE waiting for a doctor as he got crazier and crazier, tearing the cannula from his arm, raving, playing with the oxygen and then running for the exit so he could have a fag. Eventually, in the small hours, we got him admitted to a ward and I sat with him to see if he would settle, though I was so tired and so fed up with his relentless delusional commentary, all the more exhausting for the moments of surprising insight that were characteristic of him in extreme distress. Never a dull moment with Pete; but he was more than I could handle that night, and when a young doctor arrived I thought he might just sedate him and, duty done, I could go home. But he did not do that. Instead, he asked Pete how he was not an unusual question from a doctor to a patient but there was something in the way he said it, something about him, that halted the flow Pete was silent for a moment and then said, Are you a man of faith? Yes, said the doctor. He was of Asian heritage and had a beard, and from his name I assumed he was a Muslim. Pete could be less than fully inclusive in his sympathies and I braced myself for a tirade, but it did not come. He opened his mouth to speak but the young doctor just looked at him so steadily, so calmly, with such frank sympathy, that he said nothing. They looked at each other in silence for a while and then they started to talk, really talk, and before long the doctor was sitting cross-legged on the bed, facing Pete, who was suddenly calm and eloquent and gradually at peace. He fell asleep. The doctor wished me well and went on to his next patient. I thanked him, but I thought inadequately, because I knew I had witnessed something quite extraordinary, and in all honesty felt some shame that the doctor had found a way into Petes distress that I had not. The weirdest thing was that, as I walked through the car park to go home, I tried to recall what the doctor had said but could not remember a single word. The moment I tried to summon it from my memory it disappeared. I will support the NHS with everything Ive got, because it exists to provide medical care for all of us, as best it can; because of the skill and professionalism of those who work in it; because it needs protecting from people who think it a cost-occasioning indulgence (at least until they need it). But I love the NHS because of what that doctor did for my parishioner on a dark night, in a hard-pressed hospital, in an undistinguished town, where miraculous care unexpectedly happened. SIR TREVOR MCDONALD The brilliance of the NHS response to the ravages of the coronavirus reminds me of the reverence Ive always had for doctors and healthcare workers who dedicate their lives to caring for us when we need them most. The memory of that reverence comes back to me whenever I manage, almost against my will, to tear myself away from the unbearable urgency and pain of the blow-by-blow accounts of how the virus has brought misery to hundreds of thousands of families, ripped communities asunder and sent the world into lockdown. In that depressing gloom, one light shines as brightly as the morning star and that light is the selfless commitment and courage of workers in the NHS. That thought takes me back to the island in the West Indies where I was born, because of the great respect we had for doctors and the medical profession in general. Of course, there was no NHS in Trinidad, but health and a desire to keep one step ahead of any passing epidemic were our major preoccupations. They consumed the lives of our parents. The place of doctors in our tiny island communities framed much of our thinking and our aspirations. Its no exaggeration to say that, in a way, we were encouraged to do well at school so that we could become doctors. At my secondary school, when the time came to make choices about which subjects we wished to take into the sixth form, Latin was de rigueur. At the slightest hint of protest, it was pointed out sharply that a career in medicine was impossible if one avoided doing Latin. We didnt ask to be doctors, it was assumed that we should be, so I plunged reluctantly into translations of Virgil because I had no choice. That medicine was so prominent in the thoughts of tutors and parents was no surprise. We survived in comparative poverty and well-balanced diets were uncommon. Few general bouts of ill health passed us by without leaving their mark this enhanced the absolute status of the medical profession. You should become a doctor, was the constant refrain of parents and every neighbour who saw you carrying a schoolbook without much success in my case, I must add, though it rang through my years at school. Then I came to London and fell into the protective bosom of the NHS. My first doctor in south-west London demonstrated such a degree of empathy that I usually left his surgery believing that he must have, at some time, suffered an illness exactly like mine. He made me feel my ailments were his too. His successor was so generous in treating my occasional high blood pressure that she never failed to remind me that white-coat syndrome was always a factor when a patient underwent the test. She was indulgent. She had a second home in Arizona and, partly as a way of deflecting attention from my medical problems, we talked American politics and about the sheriff in the state who acquired international notoriety for his tough regime on immigrants and prisoners. I know no boastful or overbearing doctors. The front-office staff at my west London NHS GPs were unfailingly courteous. The nurses were the same. When I turned up for my annual flu jab, before I could utter a cowardly word about how squeamish Ive always been at having needles stuck into my arm, I would be told it was already well known in the surgery and that it would be done as painlessly as possible. Ive always felt guilty about the fact that I dont ever remember feeling any pain at all. Thats why, when I think of our NHS in the context of the monumental tragedy of this virus, and this epidemic, Im reminded not only of the care and concern shown by my west London health centre, but of the doctors and nurses who came out of retirement to do what theyve always done: to help the sick. I shake with anger when I hear stories about health workers forced to fashion protective gear from bin liners and old curtains. I find it much too painful to listen to the tales of those whove lost their lives. Theyve gone back into the NHS in the service of a cause; they were well aware of the consequences surely the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes, in the course of our lives, were granted the privilege of hearing of the deeds of our fellow men and women who represent the finest quality in all humanity; the very best that they could ever be in any of us. That is the dazzling image I have of the NHS. May they be always afforded the encouragement to serve our people, whenever that service is most needed.

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