An Open Letter To Ward 28

To all the staff on Ward 28, James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough

Thank you.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

You took my mum, Caroline, in – a stranger in a strange land, out of her home county and confused by her stroke – and looked after her like she was one of your own. Though she was only with you for a week before we whisked her away in her own personal patient transport cunningly disguised as a small car to be installed under the care of Calderdale hospital, you did so much for her that words can’t express how much it means. That’s not to say I won’t give it a shot, though.

When I think back to Easter Sunday and the lengths to which my mum will go to avoid buying us Easter eggs, it was a terrifying time. My mum was frail and scared. I was scared and less frail. And my aunt was a force of bossy nature. But you did so much to make us feel at ease as we sat with my mum as she talked, mainly, to the sharps bin because at that time her eyes wouldn’t even consider scanning left.

It was with great joy that, come Monday, we found she’d been popped into a different bed in one of your bays. Mainly because she could now no longer talk to the bin, but also because there’s that old adage that the further you are from the nurse’s station the better you are. That’s probably not true, and in the greater scheme of things she wasn’t that much further away but you cling to anything you can in these situations.

And thank you for that jigsaw that none of you realised actually belonged to the hospital. We went through a lot, and that jigsaw went with us. From the three hours it took to assemble the edges, to the fact that my mum fell asleep on the table one day and dragged it onto the floor, that jigsaw came to represent our journey through the week.

From a jumble of unconnected pieces to something approaching a completed picture it was our rock. We didn’t let the fact that there was a piece (at least one) missing, put us off and I will continue to maintain that the remaining pieces did not fit in the puzzle at all and just came from some other generic green jigsaw. But it still represented our journey, and as we moved mum to Calderdale we left it unfinished. Again, a fitting metaphor.

And now mum’s in Calderdale and doing well. So all is good. If I could, I’d add another piece to the jigsaw (but as I mentioned, I’m sure none of the remaining pieces fitted).

However, I feel I must also say sorry. Because I know my mum can be, at times, what people may call difficult. I apologise for every time she answered your questions with a flippant response. I bet each and every one of you dreaded asking her if she’d been to the toilet or opened her bowels for fear of what answer she would give.

But most of all I apologise to the occupational therapists. I bet, when your work day starts, you don’t think that anyone is going to say “has anyone ever picked this up and thrown it at you?” while you’re asking them to complete a wooden jigsaw. But hey,  now you’ve met my mum, so welcome to my world.

So yes, I apologise.

But I also thank you again.

Because each flippant response and threat of shaped wood-based violence is a reassuring sign that despite the stroke my mum is still my mum. She might not be able to see anything to her left at the moment, and her left hand might not always want to do what she wants it to do, but she’s essentially still herself. She’s still as bolshy and argumentative as ever. And whatever exercises you may have had her doing with her left hand, she’s never seemed to have had much of a problem with two fingers in particular.

And as much as I believe it’s down to the body’s healing processes, I can’t help but think without your care, support and hard work over the last week my mum wouldn’t be where she is at the moment. The work you do on the ward is amazing. Literally amazing. It’s hard not to have anything but love and admiration for the NHS when you spend time among people so dedicated and passionate about the work they’re doing and the care they are providing.

Again, I thank you all.

Jake