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Welcome to February at Hackwriters
82 Heartbeats
Sam North - a sudden descent into the darklands of A&E brings surprising illumination

'It was the champagne that done it', the home help declared, and unfortunately I suspect it was.
I returned to Lincolnshire for my mother's eighty-second birthday. Each birthday gets to be more precious than the last and although there are times Joanna must and does quite wonder why she is 'hanging on' so long, the flowers, the family gathering around her for celebrations must make her feel it's worth it, at least for one day a year.

Sadly my elder sister gave her a glass of champagne. No harm done, but there is always something that triggers a change in someone's health, when you are a frail eighty-two your health is balanced very finely indeed on a stack of slowly dissolving sugar cubes.
The following day Joanna looked terrible, she was sinking fast. An ambulance was called and it arrived with astonishing swiftness.

Right away, if you are reading this in the USA or Nigeria or deepest darkest Peru, you will know that once someone is taken to a British hospital you might as well read the will and start flogging the antiques, she won't be coming back. British hospitals have been compared to 18th century infested institutions that Charles Dicken's would find abominable. Indeed, as I write this hospitals in Scotland are closed to new patients as viruses are sweeping through them, decimating staff and patients alike.

Well I have to report that the Princess Diana hospital in Scartho, Grimsby is clean, friendly, efficient, calm and welcoming. The staff are amenable, dedicated, the ambulance brilliant and soothing and other than the lack of George Clooney being there to hold Joanna's hand, you couldn't really ask for more. It is comforting to know that the computers work, important documents were quickly found for the A&E department, the senior cardiac nurse efficient and the Doctors diagnosis was swift following blood and urine tests. All of this done within four hours. OK, there were a stack of people waiting on trolleys to be seen, but all of them had been assessed and since this is A&E and triage is in play, heart conditions do take precedence. You get the feeling that keeping people alive and listening to to patients is important to them.

It was a very reassuring family emergency and suddenly I can see why a eight-two year old woman who has traveled all over the world would elect to live just three blocks from a hospital like this. It is a measure of how much importance she attaches to her continued existence, despite protests to the contrary. It is testimony to a hospital that although once was considered under-par, is now pretty proud of itself, working well and attracting humane staff (as well as nearly 300 volunteers who help things go more smoothly). So thanks Princess Diana Hospital, she's back home, on treatment and on the road to recovery.

It is very easy to knock British public services and yes, I have written up a completely different experience at the Hammersmith A&E in London which was a genuine nightmare and resulted in a twelve hour wait to see a doctor with someone with suspected meningitis, but that is London. This is Lincolnshire. If one hospital can cope and be civilised in a town not exactly known for patient and civil behavior then it is possible elsewhere.

The UK is going through some pain right now and I know in London the railway unions do seem to be blackmailing the public. There is also a shortage of teachers and skilled people all over the place (except lawyers). But being a public sector worker is hard. You are never going to make a fortune and as a lecturer I know, you don't expect and have never experienced quality management or thanks for devotion to duty. In fact, the more I think of it, almost every public sector worker I know is good at their job, dedicated and conscientious. But increasingly they are faced with short term contracts, contracting holiday periods, more paperwork, more monitoring and unprofessional management, usually made up of people promoted simply because of their failure to do their job well at a lower level. (This is standard practice in teaching as far as I can see). Why doesn't education, hospitals and the railways attract experienced MBA's? Wouldn't it be nice to think of someone with an MBA being altruistic.

Goodwill has always been the backbone of working in the public eye. Abuse it, you lose it and a whole lot more besides. All the UK has ever needed was good management and good motivation skills. Something is going right in Grimsby's hospital. Maybe someone should bottle it and spread it around.

Hackwriters is in Nice this week - no the sun isn't shining there either. We are back next week 15th

A thought for Joanna aged 82.

Read about Horatio
The Mouse Who Would be King!
by Joanna

She was born in 1920 in India, near a then sleepy colonial Calcutta. She remembers much of a very vivid and lively childhood there, growing up with five sisters and a brother. Remembers then coming to England during the depression in the depths of a cold winter. As she turned twenty most everything she loved was being bombed to hell and somewhere in this rubble she became an actress and by day a nurse. After the war she found herself in quiet and safe Lincolnshire, married to Bob, businessman and racing driver and safe at last. But anyone born in the colonies knows that nowhere is ever home and wanderlust took over when her husband, my father, died young. She went to live in Africa returning to the stage there, her moment of glory in 'Showboat'. Then she tried Canada for a while, being near her daughter, but Canada proved to be too cold. Now here she is back in Lincolnshire, still thinking of what will happen next.

Update 4.02.2002 : she's on the mend, and making plans again. Jo thanks many of you for writing in and wishing her well.

© Sam North 2002

If you want to join me for screenwriting development classes I'll be at the
Salignac Foundation in France in March and May. It will be fun and there are two types of programmes, beginners and professionals. Be good to see you there.

A Salignac Diary

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