Home alone

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse ……’ 

The 1st of December marks, at least in my head, the beginning of the festive season and about the time the big Hollywood studios start to launch their Christmas fare.  When my daughters’ were growing-up their favourites and possibly mine, were ‘Home Alone’, followed closely by ‘Nativity’, ‘Love Actually’ and ‘The Grinch’. Although I love ‘A Christmas Carol’, it doesn’t quite nail the feel-good factor that comes with Tinseltown movies. 

It only hit home to me watching Gogglebox last Friday night how important Christmas is to the family and extended family. I was truly touched to see Goggleboxers burst into tears when Boris Johnson announced the relaxing of the lockdown rules for Christmas. One Goggleboxer said she could now order the Christmas turkey for the family dinner and whilst another couldn’t wait to give her gran a hug (make it a safe hug by self-isolating for 10 days beforehand to make sure you are virus-free). The modern Christmas is about family, which is why my thoughts go out to all those unsung heroes who keep the NHS working; yes, those wonderful nurses, nursing assistants, therapists, cleaners, porters, cooks and helpers who recently looked after me in King’s Collge Hospital. 

It may be politically incorrect to say this, but I am going to say it anyway. Eight or nine out of ten of the ‘unsung heroes and heroines’ who looked after me so well on the David Marsden neurosurgery ward were not native English. The overwhelming majority were from beyond these shores, yes ethnic minorities from all over the world. Far East Asia (Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore), Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh), Africans (Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, South Africa) and Europe (Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Polish) and possibly a few other nationalities that I have forgotten about.

A significant number of the staff, particularly, the wonderful Filipino nurses, who were recently recruited and did not have settled status in the UK and were living in hospital- or shared-subsidised accommodation and were sending money home to support their children and families, were not going home for Christmas. Almost all of them were spending Christmas working, doing extra shifts, to keep the NHS running. 

During my two weeks in the hospital, I don’t think there was a single shift when the ward had a full complement of nurses. In other words, the ward was running on half a tank of fuel. If you work in any organisation you know that it is fine to fill in the gaps when colleagues, such as me, are off work for a short period of time. But when over-working becomes the norm it affects morale. It is no fun to be exhausted all the time and not being able to complete a shift or day at work, and have the satisfaction of knowing you have done a good job. Yes, you need time to do a good job; when you are always rushing you miss things and are more likely to make mistakes.

Despite the extraordinary working conditions all the support staff smiled and made every effort to make me comfortable and look after my needs. It was clear that they really cared.  I was particularly impressed by how well they managed a patient with complex needs in the bed opposite me. He was very disabled, unable to speak and doubly incontinent, and the way the nursing staff spoke and managed him, even when he required a bath and change of bed linen in the early hours of the morning, was truly remarkable. This is why these staff are the unsung heroes and heroines of the NHS! 

It is no different with MS care. Can you imagine what would happen to MS services without nurse specialists, infusion nurses, administrators, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, medical technologists, drivers, radiographers to name a few. The NHS is a complex system and it works because we all pull our weight.

The dedication and motivation of the Kings’ College staff say a lot about the nursing leadership, not only of the ward but the hospital as well. The head nurse was very impressive and clearly runs a tight ship under quite trying conditions. She is very hands-on and worked like all the other nurses. In other words, she leads by example and I am sure this is why her staff are so motivated.

Leadership is something that should not be underestimated. Just look at the COVID-19 pandemic and which countries are handling it better than others. It is often down to inspired and trustworthy leadership. When you admire and trust a leader who has vision and conviction you are more likely to listen and follow. This message has not passed us by and is why we have included a leadership training programme as part of our MS Acadamy Raising the Bar (RtB) initiative, i.e. to train the next generation of MS leaders who are going to transform NHS services for pwMS.

An example of walking the extra mile is the relationship I formed with one of the nursing assistants who looked after me at King’s. As I was not able to mobilise because of pain for at least 10 days I had to have everything done for me, including bed baths; he was one of my bed bathers.  During my stay, I heard his back story and how he had left the Ivory Coast to live in France and had finally arrived in the UK and had settled in London. Despite being super busy he took time out of his busy day to teach me a little about Ivory Coast and its music. I can now count myself a fan of Tiken Jah Fakoly an Ivory Coast Popstar. When I got speaking to one of the ward contract cleaners, who I found out was also from the Ivory coast, and asked her if she liked Tiken Jah Fakoly she was clearly bowled over. How did I know about Tiken Jah Fakoly? I was even able to stream some of his music via my smartphone while she cleaned my cubicle. On hearing the music of her fellow countryman she did a little Ivory Coast jiggle and walked proudly. 

Then there were the therapists who helped me mobilise and taught me to walk and do stairs. Without their time, patience and care I would probably have had to spend another week or two dong inpatient rehabilitation. One of the physiotherapists designed a supine work-out routine for my upper and lower body to make sure I don’t lose strength and muscle mass whilst my fractures heal and I get fully mobile. I have now modified this routine to using weights and have extended it so that it now lasts an hour. 

It is the recollection of these sorts of moments that have made me determined to focus on the positives and not the negatives of my accident. I keep reminding myself that I could have had a severe head or spinal cord injury. 

Yes, I am home alone. Today marks the first day in my recovery that my wife has gone back to work and left me at home to my own devices. I am now independent and on the road to hopefully a full recovery, which is thanks to the rainbow nation of NHS staff who have gotten me here. 

Thank you and I sincerely hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

CoI: multiple

Twitter: @gavinGiovannoni 

Medium: @gavin_24211

20 thoughts on “Home alone”

  1. I’m relieved to hear you’re doing well and I wish you a continued good recovery and a positive festive season. From my own experience of being home alone, you’re going to go out of your mind with the loss of work routine. Find yourself a project to keep your mind focussed, stick to a physio regimen, but don’t fall over (broken ribs really hurt) and avoid daytime TV at all cost.

  2. Fantastic post and well deserved compliments to the rainbow staff in all hospital networks. Speedy recovery to you.

  3. Very, very well said! Wonderful to follow your recovery and to be reminded by all the light that is shining in an otherwise dark place. You have lit quite a few lights over the years, and not cursed the darkness.
    Very best wishes for Christmas, 2021 and the future of all your efforts.

  4. Thank you for such an uplifting post. When I was in hospital two years ago I too was looked after by wonderful multi – national staff. Wishing you continued good recovery.

    1. Yes. When I was in ICU just over 2 years ago, I was also looked after by staff from many nations, all of them wonderful. It’s at times like that you realise what an outstanding institution the NHS is and how we still owe a debt to those outstanding politicians who founded it, in the teeth of huge opposition at the time. Woe betide those who wish to dismantle it.

  5. I’m pleased to hear that you are well enough to be left alone and I hope you continue to make good progress. I was unfortunate enough to find myself in A&E at Croydon University Hospital a few years back. I won’t go into details but I was embarrassed to find myself there on a busy Sunday afternoon (A&E was full of ‘Sunday morning’ footballers with various injuries). I was looked after by a lovely Romanian doctor and a nurse whose dad was German and his mother Spanish. I’m not saying a doctor or nurse from the UK or anywhere else in the world would not have given me the care I needed. But the doctor in particular had a great sense of humour and both he and the nurse made me feel a lot less stupid than I felt when I first arrived at their door that afternoon. I was very grateful that those two professionals had chosen the UK, and Croydon in particular, to work. We owe a lot to the staff in the NHS, and I think we should give added thanks to those who have left their families at home and chosen to work in the UK. Happy Christmas!

  6. …….and whilst another couldn’t wait to give her gran a hug, doing so means she could be burying her in the New Year.
    So, not a good idea.
    Stay safe folks and don’t get carried away with the (unwise) relaxation of the rules over the festive season , the virus doesn’t know it’s Christmas.

  7. I’m not Christian, and to me, Christmas is for children. I avoid all respiratory infections, so gathering with people in closed-in environments in winter is something I normally do not do.

      1. To clarify, I snickered at Scrooge’s comment, not your reply Anonymous. This pandemic has surely highlighted that we need a balance of both extraverts and introverts in this world.

  8. Amen to all that. And it’s just the same story with carers in residential care homes. We all know true value when we see it in action – there is no mistaking it – but true value is not always reflected in how we pay people.

    Get well soon, Prof G.

  9. What a lovely heartfelt post. I’m sure it meant a lot to the nursing assistants that you took the time to find out about them.

    I remember when I was an SLT assistant on a stroke unit, one of the patients told me that their favourite person was the tea lady, as she spoke to them like a person and not a patient, she remembered if they liked their tea with milk and how many sugars they had etc. Little interactions like this are meaningful, and the heroes are often where you might not expect to find them.

    The NHS is a wonderful institution and I hate what’s being done to it and the criticism that staff often get when they are stretched to their limit, not to mention what could happen after Brexit and the way that foreign health workers are habitually treated by the Home Office.

    Prof G, you’re right about Home Alone – I witnessed lots of thirty-somethings burst into tears when the LPO played the theme tune at a concert in the Albert Hall. Lots of memories of childhood Christmases there. For me it was always Indiana Jones on Boxing Day.

    I love that you watch Gogglebox. British humour is what I miss most now I’m in Germany (don’t let Prof K read this) and Gogglebox makes me laugh and teary in equal measures.

    Well done so far on your rehab and don’t get up to mischief now you’re home alone 😌

  10. For times when home alone I recommend BBC Sounds whereby you may pick and choose the best of Radio 4, among other stations, and Podcasts. Desert Island Discs had a great episode with Arse`ne Wenger (Nov 22nd) Listen also to ‘How to Vaccinate the World’ (Nov 30th) Previous episodes of ‘More or Less’ a real account of how statistics are used/misused in mainstream media are good listening. Also on my prescription is Comedy, Comedy, Comedy. Time will fly…

  11. Months ago ProfG had an epiphany about first patients being treated with alemtuzumab and free from disease for more than 10 years.

    I was wondering: did anybody test those patients to check immune system population characteristics in periphery and CSF?

    We have patients that are seemingly doing very well and I think the should be tested to havens build a deeper understanding of the disease biology

  12. Mmm I messed up with my previous message it was meant for the December Q&A.

    Home alone… A quick travel back to childhood

    Focus on positive aspects ProfG, and make a speedy recovery!

  13. I grew up with the belief that I wasn’t worthy of kindness and that I didn’t matter, so when someone is kind to me in a nurturing way, like HCP’s can be when caring for you and helping you manage and heal, it’s amazing medicine all by itself, angels in action. I am lucky to have been cared for by a few over the years. I don’t forget them and I think you will remember yours.

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