ARTICLE: Lean on me

Dear NHS,

The Jones family had written this year off because of the pandemic. We’d kept ourselves to ourselves in the main and clapped for you during lockdown, but left you to do your thing not expecting to call on you unless one of us caught the virus in a serious way.

Then one bright, blue-skied autumnal day we took a walk in the woods, admiring the colours, relaxing into the nature around us, feeling life’s day to day little worries slip away under the dense, tall pencil-like pine trees, never expecting to come face-to-face with an actual big worry in a setting like this.

We were three quarters of the way round, when my two boys found a precarious swing rope that jutted out over a dip in the land, beneath was a floor of golden leaves. Over-excited, they both took it in turns to swing out and back with the usual ‘again, again’ preventing us from moving on and taking ever so slightly bigger risks each time.

I stood to the side smiling and taking photos to capture them both in the air. On the last go, as I was watching my eldest, Lucas, through my phone’s camera, his run up looked slippy and his grip awkward as he set off. He was at the highest point when his grip gave way and he fell, crashing to the ground, the carpet of leaves disguising the hardness of the fall. It had happened in the space of seconds – one swing line of success, one fail.

There was silence, then he immediately cried out that he’d broken his arm. We weren’t sure having never dealt with any broken limbs before if this was right, but we drove straight to you anyway, needing your reassurance.

We arrived at your A&E doors, Lucas caked in mud and in excruciating pain, and were directed next door where we entered a calm oasis of an A&E just for children. I couldn’t believe your expert efficiency. I told you his name, date of birth and the first line of our address. You saw him straight away, administered pain relief, conducted x-rays and talked us through the initial results all within an hour of us arriving.

When you calmly told us the news that he’d broken the humerus bone in his left arm, that there may also be nerve damage they couldn’t tell just yet, we’d have to ‘wait and see’, I just remember the pause — the pause between able bodied and not. The fine line.

I had a sudden flash back to Lucas’ birth in this same hospital over 11 years earlier – it had been complicated because his head had turned during labour, getting stuck, and in the end he’d been whisked out with forceps in an emergency theatre as his heart rate started to fall. He was born and there was a silence, a pause between being alive and not. Of course you walk this fine line every day between one outcome and the other. You worked your magic that day, he started to breathe and to cry, and so did we.

Aware Lucas was studying my reactions on how to process this news, I just about kept composed, looked you in the eye to thank you, held his good hand and told him not to worry. A while later you came back, did some more checking and you were more confident now there wasn’t nerve damage but swelling around the broken bone. You asked him to play rock, paper, scissors with you and we watched with relief as his fingers moved. Lucas wouldn’t need an operation now, his arm was going to heal on its own.

While you put the cast on, and discharged us with a follow up appointment for a few days later, politely ignoring the trail of mud we left behind, I started to breathe again.

The next day I was walking around the block to get some air and tears started falling. The shock of his fall, how awful it had been but also how lucky we were was catching up with me. I found myself outside our local church, needing to pray or express my gratitude to some higher being…but I’m not a religious person. I actually needed to pass my gratitude on directly to you; you are the higher being walking the line between okay and not okay every day. So thank you NHS for our gorgeous boy Lucas (twice over). Thank you for everything that you do even in the midst of a global pandemic. Thank you.

Love always,

The Jones family

This blog was inspired by Adam Kay’s book ‘Dear NHS: 100 stories to say thank you’, all profits for which go to NHS Charities Together and The Lullaby Trust.

You can also donate directly to NHS Charities Together here.

Song credit: NHS staff choir. Watch the music video here.

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