By Melanie Reid in THE TIMES, 22 September 2018:
Sometimes, I wish I were braver. I’d love the courage to tap people on the arm mid-conversation and say, “Please stop moaning.” I’d like to interrupt meetings with, “Do any of you ever consider how lucky you are?” In fact, I dream of owning a long-distance Taser, which I could magically use on anyone who complains about nothing while enjoying unparalleled warmth, health, comfort and prosperity. Zap, zap, zap – I’d be stinging dozens of the buggers a day.
Right now, my fantasy moan Taser is directed at critics of the NHS – which, second to the weather, is what we complain about most: our political football, our conversational banker, our totemic keeper of life and death and all things in between. Honestly, if you believed the relentless negative barrage about “NHS morale being lower than ever”, you’d give up now.
Sad thing is, we’re attacking human beings, not some unfeeling monolith. We do this with perfect equanimity even as, according to a recent poll, we vote medicine and nursing the most respected professions. I took someone to hospital for a day procedure recently and, when I picked them up, we were debriefed by the student nurse. A more senior nurse had already said, in passing, that everything had gone well. Now, I’m an expert in student nurses and they’re like learner drivers. They’re doing their best, they’re unsure of themselves, and you have to make allowances for them. Some are better than others, certainly, but every individual deserves patience and understanding, because there will come the day, for all of us, when an approaching nurse is the single most precious sight in our life. Believe us, the victims of bad accidents and the chronically ill creepers of outpatient corridors, we know this for sure.
The student in question was earnest and caring, but out of his depth with my companion’s slightly woozy, peremptory questions. My instinct was to intervene, protecting the lad, and to hope that his confidence wasn’t derailed. The really tragic thing was the takeaway – my friend went home, after a successful, potentially life-saving procedure, complaining about a poor kid who couldn’t answer his questions. Instead of celebrating what had gone well.
Gosh, you inhabit the land of the entitled, I thought. So I tapped them on the arm and said, “Please don’t moan.”
Most of all, I hate the destructive cynicism. This summer’s recruiting advert film, We Are the NHS, aimed at 14 to 18-year-olds, perfectly caught the ethos of the service: that warm, fuzzy feeling, the sense of pride, generosity and ownership that makes our health workers keep going. These people deserve a bit of effective propaganda, and yes, actually, we can honour the staff even if we don’t support their political masters. If I were a child and my mother or father were a nurse, that advert would make me burst with pride. I’d be inspired to go into nursing like them, and tell my friends why.
Of course, the profession, and the way the NHS treats it, is crying out for reform: without doubt, nurses deserve better pay and working conditions. Of course improvement must come urgently. But in the meantime, let’s not poison the well of core values, or demean those who care, by posting bitter, destructive comments calculated to make teenagers apply to the video industry instead.
Studying nursing is like studying engineering – there are hundreds of specialisms to diversify into. (I can’t think of anything more wonderful than being a midwife.) Nurses now do surgery, run successful GP-free health centres, become professors. Or often they choose to stay hands-on, relishing the messy, frantic, funny primacy of life in the raw. For the record, some of the emotionally richest and strongest women I know are nurses. And they moan, too, but they love their jobs to bits.
Melanie Reid is tetraplegic after breaking her neck and back in a riding accident in April 2010