Enid* had become the granny of the ward. She had been in the hospital for some time. The staff loved her; she knew them all by name and they would seek her advice. The ward was the place where she felt loved and wanted. She had attended services I led in the hospital chapel when she could – and this had become her church.
I went to visit Enid a week before Christmas and this time she was miserable. It was so unlike her: she was usually such a cheerful person and always had a tale or two of her childhood to tell. I asked her what the matter was and she told me that the decision had been made to discharge her. She knew that she did not need to be in an acute hospital any more – but she was going to miss what she saw as her community and ward family.
She would have community support at home, but she would be on her own for most of the time. We sent her home with a food parcel as we have links with a local food and clothes bank.
That day I was interviewed by the local BBC TV news for a short piece about being in hospital at Christmas. I talked about the difficulties of people being separated from families and friends at a time when everyone else seemed to be having a good time. Although Enid was not going to be in hospital, I was thinking about her distress and anxiety. It was due for broadcast in the following day or two, but got bumped as there was a snowstorm that filled the news.
I was working on Christmas Eve – and there is always a lot to do, such as catching up with people who were being discharged for Christmas Day. Most, unlike Enid, were very happy to go home, even if it was only for a day or two. I also wanted to see those people who were staying in.
There were the families waiting by their loved ones’ bedsides for their lives to come to an end: the family of a young man who had come off his motorbike, and the relatives of a 40-year-old woman with cancer who was not going to see another Christmas. There were people, too, from long distances away, whose families would not be able to visit over Christmas. I guess this is what I had reflected in the TV interview.
We have an army of volunteers who come in on Christmas Eve to go around every ward and sing carols. I tell the teams, “If you make the nurses cry, you are doing your job properly!” They, and the patients and their families, are so touched that people care enough to come in on such a busy day to sing to them.
As we worked our way around the wards, I was surprised to see Enid back on the ward she had been in before. She looked very happy indeed. I was concerned that she had had to be admitted again. Enid told me afterwards that this was the best Christmas she had had for years. The ward manager had sat with her as she had her Christmas dinner and all the staff made a great fuss of her.
We talk a lot about holistic care in the NHS and this seemed to me a fine example of it. As it turned out, it was Enid’s last Christmas: what a wonderful gift.
I got home at about 9.30pm with a sore throat – and heartily fed up with carols. My family and I caught the news before going out again to the midnight service. There I was on the TV talking about what it was like to be in hospital over Christmas. I had forgotten about it completely. I realised that Enid’s experience had altered my thinking and that, if asked again, I would say something different about being in hospital over Christmas. I would say that I have seen joy in hospital at Christmas as well as sadness. Joy and hope can arise in the most unpromising circumstances.
*Name and some details have been changed
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