To celebrate the NHS' 72nd anniversary on 5 July, Cosmopolitan writers are sharing what the NHS has meant to them.
As a kid I was lucky to feel proud about what Mum and Dad did for a living. If talk of parents would pop up on the carpet in reception class, I knew it would be a moment for me to feel good. "My dad’s a soldier and my mummy’s a nurse," I would announce boldly, as the other children replied with, "wow!" and, "cool" and, "I’m going to be a nurse too!" My parents had the kinds of jobs that five year olds will always understand.
It wasn’t until I was a few years older that I truly understood why nursing was something to be proud of. It was a Saturday, I was about ten or eleven, and I was doing the weekly shop with Mum. We’d whizzed around Morrisons, frozen our tits off in Iceland, and were heading out of the door with a trolley piled high when we bumped into a group of people gathered around an elderly man. He'd collapsed on the concrete.
Calmly, Mum turned to me while digging the car keys out of her bag and said, "You know that white box inside the door of the car? Go and fetch it for me."
She walked over to the huddle of people, announcing that she was a nurse and could offer some help. Off I ran, to complete my mission. By the time I arrived back at the scene – white box in hand – Mum had cleared space, instructed a bystander to call for an ambulance, and knelt down beside the gentleman talking to him as she felt for a pulse. He wasn’t responding.
As if by magic, she knew I was back and began talking me through unclipping the box and popping out the silicone mask. Smoothly, my mum then pressed to the man’s face and began giving him CPR. Although it didn’t look nearly as dramatic as it did on Casualty, I watched in awe at her confidence in the midst of such a chaotic scene.
When the ambulance arrived, Mum informed the paramedics of what she knew and the treatment she’d given before they took over. She packed up her CPR kit into its box, led me over to our trolley, and began to push it back to the car. "I’m sure he’ll be fine now he’s in the right hands," she told me. But all I remember was thinking, 'aren't hers surely the right hands?' She’d been so calm, and I was amazed at not only how she’d helped the man, but how she’d made me and all the other people who stood there watching feel safe, and less useless somehow.
As the years have gone by, my life has been littered with moments like this. At parties, on my first girls' holiday, in shopping centres, in the middle of long haul flights. Moments where Mum steps into life or death situations, does her bit to help, and then collectedly walks away as though it were nothing. I suppose by now, it’s all second nature to her.
7 July 2020 will mark Mum’s 40th year of nursing. I can’t imagine doing anything for 40 years, let alone the relentless caring that she’s provided for that amount of time. She’s delivered babies; taken blood; fished plastic toys out of noses; patched up people whose abusive partners wait in the hall - and encouraged them that they’re safe enough now to get help; she’s referred people for CT scans and DVT checks; she’s stitched up the 'lads' after bravado and a stag do got the better of them; she’s evolved with technology; she’s prescribed all sorts of lotions and potions; she’s worked festivals helping those who were a little too high find their way safely back down; she got a first in her degree when the government worried that 20-something years of experience might not be enough; she’s mentored young nurses and inspired my brother to follow in her footsteps; she’s taken numerous phone calls from friends and family about what this or that lump or bump might be. And this year, of course, she’s rolled with the punches – as all our NHS staff have – to fight COVID-19.
Mum has lived through so many incredible changes in the NHS. When I asked her what the biggest was, she first mentioned the development of MRI and CT scans. But then she paused, and said: "The attitudes and expectations of people who think that everything can be fixed."
These days, we tend to believe there’s nothing a nurse, a doctor or a surgeon won’t be able to put right. That's not always true - the pandemic has taught us that - but what you can always assume is that the person in charge cares - and they'll try everything in their power to help.
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