The public hospital system is fuelled by love, not money
MY wife’s mother died a few days ago. A stroke it was, suffered on Father’s Day.
It was very sudden and deeply distressing as a result, for though she was 85, she had been in good health for a person of her years.
She’d lived by herself in her own home, did for herself, managed her affairs with careful and practiced prudence.height="270" />
In fact, until the last week of her life, she’d led a richly independent existence, enjoying her friends and family, continuing to keep to the joys and passions she’d followed all her varied and interesting life. Loved and loving, she was a treasure beyond all value and her radiant spirit will be very much missed.
On that Sunday night, the family was given the shocking news that Gwen would probably die within the next 24 hours, but in the event, she defied the doctors’ judgment, surviving until the following Saturday.
And that was a blessing, for those six days meant my wife and her sisters, plus seven grandchildren all had the opportunity to say their farewells, to come to terms with the dreadful events which were unfolding, to be drawn together and supported by the strong bonds of family.
So there was much for which to be thankful; the time to say goodbye, the realisation there would be no prolonged suffering, the fact that Gwen would be spared the anguish of permanent incapacity.
But that is private really, and not a matter to be aired in a forum such as this, for all families must come to terms with such a loss at some time.
But as much as grief IS private, the fates conspire sometimes to oblige us to suffer our worst sorrows partly in public.
In my wife’s family’s case, their ordeal was played out in a public ward at Gosford Hospital on the Central Coast and at a time when the news is routinely dominated by stories of the NSW Health Department’s inadequacies, by reports of the serial failure of our public hospitals, the treatment offered to one family by staff at one particular hospital is most certainly a matter worthy of this discussion, a most important matter of public interest.
And those staff members, the doctors, the nurses, the ancillary and support staff – every single staff member we encountered during our six-day vigil - were without exception, exemplary. They were thorough, professional, dedicated, and the level of help and support they offered, singly and collectively, was faultless.
But even to say that is to say too little – way too little. For we have a right to expect “thorough, professional and dedicated” service from medical staff.
We were given much more than that.
In the Emergency Department, we met the young intern, Daniel, who treated Gwen on her arrival and whose dreadful duty it was to give us the news she could not survive. Can you imagine a more difficult job?
Yet with the softest kindness, he helped us to comprehend, guiding our lay understanding so the truth could be absorbed. My wife and her sisters saw him several more times during their stay at their mother’s side and on every occasion they drew new strength from his presence, new peace from his gentle reassurance.
In the ward to which Gwen was admitted we met the registrar Gareth and another young doctor, Lauren who gave of their time, of their compassion and their unfailing sympathy without limit, despite the never-ending demands they and all doctors seem to face in public health. They were simply wonderful.
There was the consulting neurologist Dr Reyneke. Holding Gwen’s hand and stroking back her fine white hair, she called her by her name, her tone quiet and reassuring. Yes, she told my wife and her sisters, it was very possible their mother was aware of their presence, had heard every word they’d whispered to her. It was a gift beyond all value.
There were the day nurses, Tracey and Brooke - and others who names I can’t recall – who demonstrated only that nursing is not a job, not even a profession. It’s a calling, a true vocation adorned by those devoted, dedicated women. Tracey told us an indicative story.
A while ago, nurses at the hospital had called a stop-work meeting, not to ask for better pay, though - God knows - they deserve it, but to ask for a better nurse-to-patient ratio so they can do a better job.
There was the night nurse Lynne (I hope that spelling is right) who sat with the family for three nights, including the last before Gwen slipped away just after dawn. About every ten minutes or so, like a guardian angel, there she was at the doorway, checking, monitoring, watching.
There is simply no word to express the level of care and compassion which Lynne provided – except perhaps one. Though she didn’t know any of us, had never met Gwen before she fell into her coma, there was no mistaking what Lynne had to offer. It was love.
At such times of crisis, the mind turns to thoughts of the infinite, of what might lie beyond the great divide, of the life lessons we ought to keep.
One such is the biblical invocation that we should treat others as we would be treated.
Those staff members at Gosford Hospital know that lesson well, and one family owes them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
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