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The kindness of strangers

Blog | By Wilfred De'Ath | Feb 26, 2020

Credit: Steve Way

In one of his last columns, Wilfred De'Ath asks where the NHS would be without its diverse staff

My feet and legs (below the knee) are now devoid of any sensation whatsoever.

Even with the aid of a walking stick, I have sustained several heavy falls on the Cambridge streets. So I had no choice but to return to Addenbrooke’s Hospital for advice and treatment. Rather to my surprise, they admitted me as an in-patient overnight.

The nurse in A & E (Accident and Emergency) who first greeted and assessed me hailed from Lithuania. The nurse who took my observations (blood pressure and temperature) was Polish. The nurse who measured my blood-sugar level – I am diabetic – was Bulgarian. The first young doctor I saw who accurately diagnosed my condition was French, name of Louis.

The nurse who welcomed me into a private room in A5 ward was Indian – a Punjabi. During the night, I was visited by a couple of nurses of Italian origin. My breakfast in the morning (Weetabix with insufficient milk and pallid tea) was brought to me by a nice Nigerian lady.

A physiotherapist arrived to take a look at my poor old feet. She was Spanish. (In my day, physiotherapists taught basket-weaving and flower-arranging, but now they do everything.) I was then whisked off for a leg scan – the scanner spoke techno-speak in an impenetrable Scottish accent. I realised that this might be the only interaction I was going to get with a British person. Two porters took me on the long stretcher ride to the scanning room – one was from Pakistan; the other from Sri Lanka.

I finally got to see, in the late morning, the Senior Diabetic Consultant, Dr Mahomet Majeed – he was Indian. He told me my condition was ‘irreversible’ – medic speak for ‘we can do nothing for you’. He offered to discharge me, but I begged to be allowed to stay for another night, since I was badly in need of sleep. (You can never sleep for long in a hospital like Addenbrooke’s because you are constantly interrupted by well- meaning staff.)

During the night, I was kept awake by a very old man rambling away in the room next door. He was dying and making very heavy weather of it. I hope that, when I come to die, which must be quite soon, I shall do so quietly.

So morning came and I had experienced my third Addenbrooke’s sojourn without needing a single English person. I expect they are out there somewhere but – luckily – our paths did not cross.

To celebrate my discharge from Addenbrooke’s with a diagnosis of imminent demise, I decided to visit a café run by a Turkish family for breakfast. When I asked them why they left Finsbury Park, where they used to live and work, one of them replied, ‘Too many foreigners.’

Where would the NHS be without all the foreigners? Where would any of us be?