last week I spent a whole day sitting in a waiting area in an NHS hospital. It was an eye opening experience. Firstly there were lots of nurses, in dark blue, light blue, white and striped uniforms they chatted amongst themselves while taking care of the comings and goings on this busy unit. Some talked louder than others, we overheard family problems, talk of holidays and of celebrations
During the day we watched dozens of people come and go, some frail and elderly arriving by ambulance and being moved from stretcher to chair, then back to stretcher and out again. It was bewildering, the sheer number of those waiting discharge and the frustrations of the nursing staff trying to track down medicines and doctors to allow the patients to leave. Family members came and went and a seemingly never ending amount of people moved across the unit.
After we had been there some four hours or so a new patient arrived. He was an elderly man, awaiting family to collect him after his stay in the hospital. The first thing I noticed was his smile and the twinkle in his eyes. He was chatty with the nurses and it was only a matter of minutes before we were talking. He was joined by another man from his ward, also on his way home, and he began to tell me how they had been in adjoining beds, and had shared history of war time service.
It was so nice to have someone to chat to, and as we talked he began to tell me of his time as a young man, when aged eighteen he joined the Air Force and went to war. The tales he told, involved flying to impossibly far away places, North Africa, Europe and then the far East, where he went to Burma and flew over Japan. As he was talking the elderly man in the chair was changing in front of my eyes. He became younger, sat up straighter as he was talking of the experiences, the people and the feelings he had had as a young man. He spoke about his wife, now deceased and how they had long years of separation due to the war, and how they got married by special license at the end of the war. How they had been married for fifty happy years and how he missed her every day.
It was a fascinating look into another world for me. In the midst of NHS mayhem, I was able to put aside worries about my family and listen to the stories of another generation. Once again I thought about all the older members of my community and how they must also have stories of passion, of sadness, bravery and courage, and how they have carried these memories for decades, while watching the world change in ways they could never have imagined.
One thing he said will resonate with me for a long time to come. Telling me about flying in bombers over enemy territory, about the banter in the plane and the fear everyone felt and no one acknowledged. He said simply, ‘you never forget, you know, you remember. The memories have informed everything that has happened since, when faced with difficulty you put yourself back in the Dakota, and think, well I survived that, so I am sure this will be fine’
How amazing to be able to use such memories so positively, to live both in the past and in the present, with hope for the future. I was so privileged to have met him, he was a happy soul, who had worked out long ago the secret of a happy life. To use the past to inform the present. To be glad for what you have and use every experience as a platform for learning and enjoying life.
On another day, in another ward, if we had sat in a different seat I would never have met him. I am so glad that I did.