14 February 2010

Chance meetings


I spent a long day at the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham this week whilst my son had surgery. It’s not the first time I’ve done such a thing and so I know the drill, know when I’ll get a little time out, where to get my free coffee and that chatting with strangers in a similar position is part of the day. I am always humbled when at the hospital; humbled by various children and some of the awful diseases and accidents that have endured, humbled by their parents and carers and their incredible stoicism and humbled by the staff from porters to doctors, nurses to care assistants and the wonderful way they operate and make each and every child feel special and that as a parent I am not to made to feel stupid by the questions I ask and because I love my child and that child is special to me.

Following the booking in, the chat with the nurse, the chat with the very junior doctor, the chat with the anaesthetist and then finally the chat with the surgeon and registrar (oh that everyone cared so much for adults!) I knew I had half an hour to get breakfast and catch a crafty ciggie….yes I am still addicted to the dreaded weed. So son being settled with MP3 player and DS, off I went. It wasn’t the sort of day where you wanted to hang around outside the hospital having a ciggie it being snowy and having a bitingly cold northern wind whipping its way around the corner of Steelhouse Lane Police Station but I touched base with a woman I had noticed on the ward. The young girl with Downs that I had seen her with wasn’t her daughter as I first thought but her granddaughter. She was having grommets fitted in both ears in the hope that when she could hear properly, she might be able to start to talk. The child was 10 years old, the same age as my daughter. I thought to myself what sort of system is it that a child has to wait 10 years before this sort of surgery is done?

What is it with speaking with a stranger means you open up and talk about the most intimate details of parts of your life? Is it because you will probable never see or speak with them ever again? Is it because no judgements are made on such a brief encounter? Or are you perhaps chatting about things that are normally left unsaid, lying deep within only to be released when there is nobody else personally involved around? I have no idea, perhaps it is a mixture of all but what I do know is that I am never the one seeking the comfort, rather I seem to be able to elicit secrets that are held within without even knowing how I do it or even wanting to do so.

Soon I was hugging this woman and giving thanks for my blessings. She had mentioned that her daughter was in Germany, in the army, had done two tours of Afghanistan and I had assumed that this was why she was looking after her granddaughter. Unfortunately I was wrong. This career soldier had abandoned her daughter shortly after birth and took no interest in her daughter’s life or care. Grandmother had become mother. But Grandmother was also a daughter and her own mother was with her that day. I saw her up on the ward. She was wearing a headscarf and was thin and wan. She had recently had her breasts removed because of cancer and was in the middle of chemotherapy. No wonder my companion on the street needed a hug.

Following my son’s surgery whilst he was quiet and wanting to sleep I went to get a coffee from the parents room. I struck up a conversation with the mother of a beautiful little girl who was in the bed next to my son. The child was 4 years old and was only breathing with the aid of a portable respirator. Mom had been driving her car when that precious little girl was just 12 months old and was struck by a drunk driver. Mom walked away unscathed. Her daughter was less fortunate. She was there that day to have a full MRI scan under sedation. Four full time carers were needed night and day to help look after that child and what a beautiful girl she was with long, dark, curly locks and the face of an angel. Later I went and sat with them. That little girl could not speak but she watched everything, followed me with her eyes as I stood up and moved around and you just knew from looking at her that she was completely aware of her surroundings. Her Mom told me all about the never ending court cases and the never ending hospital stays and visits but she was happy and so, so strong.

As we left I counted my blessings once again and I reflected upon these strong women who for whatever reason had trusted a complete stranger with their stories and I felt blessed again.

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