Life with the NHS

By “The Photographer’s Assistant”


The Photographer and his Assistant sit outside the deli on Monday enjoying their cup of tea. It is not too bad on the Moor this morning and there is some sunshine. Above, in the sky, a helicopter thrums. It is the Devon Air Ambulance and it may be that someone kept their illness to themselves for too long and they have become an acute emergency.


Air Ambulance over the Lych Gate

Air Ambulance over the Lych Gate

The Photographer and his Assistant continue to sit and speculate. The Photographer is wondering whether the Assistant’s birthday will be all he wants it to be, but the Assistant is far away. She is a child standing in her council home garden. The air is full of the noise of a helicopter as it makes its way just up the road to where her father will work tonight. He is shaving in the sink in the kitchen and rushing it. He has just given his daughter a cup of tea, he always does this when she arrives home from school. He doesn’t have to, but he will get to the hospital as quickly as he can. His is now a hasty goodbye. His wife is out. She is always out, but he knows that his daughter will take care of the boy.

The Assistant’s father is still dealing with war veterans and more often now with road victims as the traffic increases in the county. Sometimes, a motor cyclist will look fine, but when his helmet is removed, he will die. His daughter knows that he dreads that. Her father is the most dominant influence on her childhood years. During the war he was a medical commando and as such he was one of the first people to enter the Belsen concentration camp. After the war he was recruited by Sir Ludwig Goodman to help convince spinal injury cases that they could live. That was her father’s job and he was good at it. The Assistants father had three preoccupations, the hospital, his children and his painting. He was a former pupil of Swansea College of Art and intensely disliked Dylan Thomas, who was always in the pubs that he went into. He considered him to be a terrible drunk and sponger. The fact that he, himself kept a bottle of whisky in his wardrobe didn’t seem to count.

The less saintly aspects of the Assistant’s father lay in his marriages. He appeared to have got married twice by mistake. He could no longer go home to Wales as much as he would like for fear of bumping into his former wife. His exile was painful, and so that his daughter would not be forever English he sent her to his mother every summer holiday. The daughter loved it, and had once nearly been brought up there when her mother was ill. The father’s second marriage was to the Blonde. He had met her in the army, and had treated a bee sting on her bottom, which event seemed to have led to an affair most definitely of the heart. The father married the Blonde, but they did not live happily ever after. She turned out to be completely unstable and despite all pretty appearances had at least four breakdowns. The NHS, being in its infancy, prescribed way too many tranquillisers, so addiction was added to the situation. The NHS, however, enabled the daughter to survive. From very small, she developed unpleasant and nasty allergies, one of which led to her father running some distance to a phone box for help. Little white and black pill boxes would arrive from time to time. Strong drugs to cope with athsma. Long, long periods on a bed settee in the lounge to be amongst the family were the order of the day. Her father took charge of the nursing. No patient of his was going to spend hours thinking about their illness. A radio was usually plugged into the light switch to provide entertainment. An electric fire and later, a gas one would be lit. The father was suspicious of coal dust, and in Wales, the Grandmother would, in her eighties, take up her natural nursing skills, wrapping the child in shawls and warding off bronchitis. If it all went wrong, the new NHS would ride to the rescue with drugs and instruction.

The Photographer’s mother too was in at the start of the NHS. She was an Operating Theatre Sister at the Royal Surrey, treating the horribly burnt survivors of Dunkirk, a trauma that stayed with her to the end of her long life

In the life of the Assistant, the NHS would save her many times. The Assistant has been under its care for 65 years. Twenty years ago, the GP, who took care of her athsma, thought that she was in excellent health, but checked the Assistant’s family history and was astonished to find a history of heart and stroke problems. Since when the Assistant has had excellent preventative treatment.

Now, having two life endangering illnesses, the Assistant was a little wary of moving away from her care to live on somewhere as remote as Dartmoor, but there was no need to worry. The little town has an excellent surgery and her health has never been better. Her shaky health has improved with regular check ups. One of the doctors actually trudged through the snow to see her! This doctor is now a well known MP who does not do two jobs. The Photographer has had life saving cancer surgery.

Looking back over all these years, the NHS has been a safety net for the whole family. When The Photographer was born in 1948 he was born at the same time as the NHS into the arms of his mother, who was, herself a nurse. The Assistant has had life saving treatment and care. The Photographer has had life saving treatment and care. The Daughter had a life saving operation as a baby and having developed athsma herself is under the same care as her mother out on the remote Moor where sophisticated care and advice is dispensed. The little town’s surgery really scores when you start your visit there. You are called in, not by the busy receptionist, but by a doctor, who
comes out to greet you. If you are really fortunate, the doctor won’t need to send you to hospital, he will perform a small op himself relieving the load on RD&E a long way up the road.

The NHS may sometimes be imperfect, hurried and rushed, but it is full of people like my Dad and The Photographer’s mother, who will work all the hours there are to see that you survive happily and well.
Got to go now. My Practice nurse would like me to lose just a few more pounds! She would also like me to live a little over that sixty five that seemed so impossible all those years ago.


A Dartmoor lifeline

A Dartmoor lifeline


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