…depending on where you stand.
I spent most of the day at Evelina Children’s Hospital with my nephew. He has regular tests related to a potential immune problem, which means he is not seriously ill but it’s always a possibility. He is, without bias, the funniest kid you will ever meet.
Between appointments, we passed a few hours among the chaos and wipe-clean toys in the expansive waiting area, surrounded by children with varying levels of illness and disability.
People often say they hate hospitals, considering them silos of misery. However, after months of daily visits to hospital and rehab following Dad’s stroke, I have come to a different view. In Love Actually, national treasure Hugh Grant posits that airport arrivals is the perfect place to find evidence of love. But that seems to me to be an easy kind of love, a returning-from-happy-holidays, absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder kind of love. It’s effortless to love family that you haven’t seen for weeks or years.
Hospitals, on the other hand, are places where love and hope burn fiercely; where the value of love is understood, where love exists even when things are really fucking hard and where hope is abundant because heartbreak stands closely by.
Hospitals are where we find that we love people even when they’re angry and ungrateful, even when they cry all the time, or when they are in pain and we feel completely helpless. Love is nothing without the fear of loss; love is made everything when it is needed most.
Today, I was particularly struck by the fact that we were in Outpatients; no matter how ill these children might be, no matter what issues these families were tackling, these kids are cared for at home. I have watched as my sister has dealt with regular trips to the ventilator in A&E, and become an expert on test results and medical terms. She can recall huge amounts of information about his treatment history and medications, advocating calmly and tenaciously for my nephew. She is patient and cheerful with him, accepting any disruption to work or personal plans that his illnesses present, knowing that when he’s ill, he only wants his mum.
Hospitals are teeming with people like my sister, demonstrating the everyday extra-ordinariness of love. Just getting on with it. Just turning up. It’s not always pretty or graceful – but it’s always there. I’ll take love among the well-gummed and much-fondled NHS stickle bricks any day (do you think those things are really cleaned properly?).