This month will see my first Father’s Day without a father. I am heartbroken, shocked to my very core and I feel, quite frankly anchorless. I have often thought I am far too cynical – or as I have arrogantly assumed far too good a writer – to sink to the more obvious clichés and yet the last six months since he was diagnosed, deteriorated and died have made me re-evaluate. Little things like how much time I spend moaning about things which, quite frankly, don’t matter to big things like who I am and what my purpose is on this baffling world.
I do know one thing. I am much more likely to appreciate things and this is why I’m asking for a few moments of your time to tell you a story about a place of miraculous wonder that is firmly in our midst yet few of us ever notice it. We see signs pointing us towards it, we hear spokespeople on the radio when some study or other has been conducted and we may know, roughly, where it is. I would wish very much that you ever have cause to go there but I want you to draw comfort that there it stands; the Walton Neurological Centre.
It can be very easy to lose a loved one and suddenly become a convert to the wonderful work done by the very committed and hardworking individuals that populate much of the NHS, no matter what phone ins and the right wing media will tell us. It is a door that once opened that can never be shut. There are those that let the side down, yes, but at Walton I encountered a sensitivity that has sea-changed me.
On the whole the hours are shocking, their day to day activity painfully difficult. Imagine if your day was filled hour by hour with human suffering. Imagine it for a second. Many of us have watched a loved one die. Our hearts have broken in two and even remembering it many of us will feel tears splashing onto our cheeks as we remember how hopeless we felt. We held their hands, often we fed them, stored up stories to tell them to cheer them up and offer connection with the outside world. Around us there angels busied, making our loved ones comfortable, ensuring they were bathed, clothed, tidied. They gave them their dignity. Seem less like sick people and more like humans. There is no price you can put on that.
Admittedly there are times when this does not happen. We often focus on the bad. Angry and bereaved, we want to lash out. Care should be a human right. All too often it is not.
I cannot, however, say that the standard of care my dad, and my family, ever received at Walton was anything less than tender. It felt as though the staff held us all very gently in an embrace for the whole of my father’s stay. We were protected, entertained, consoled, made endless cups of tea. He was there for seven weeks. He died just days after he left. At every stage we felt real…dignity. Difficult in the circumstances but more important than I can articulate.
You only realise how important Walton is when you visit the website. There are directions from John Lennon Airport. Only then do you realise how precious every bed is there. Only then do you grasp the standard of care, we might take it for granted because it is here on our doorstep. I could drive home after visits. Imagine if you had to stay at the Travelodge down the road. Imagine.
There will be a lot of fathers lying in beds in Walton this Father’s Day. Their families will come in, smuggling chocolates and treats. They will be spoilt, reminded how loved they are and cheered. The staff will make it as normal a day as possible, with a slightly celebratory air.
The room my father stayed in will have another mum or dad in it. The same staff will be there. I wonder if any will walk past and think of us. Wonder how we are and how we cope. I think they probably will. They care, you see, in the very truest sense of the word, they care.
This is a difficult time for the NHS and in my darkest moments I think the NHS as we know it has already started to slide and slip. The very worst examples of hospital staff must always be exposed yet the very best must be celebrated. Centres of excellence like Walton are, gratifyingly for our city, almost two a penny; Alder Hey, Broadgreen, Clatterbridge. It is the very best of the city. Remember for many the only experience of Liverpool they get might be being flown to a hospital ward, receiving life-saving treatment and then flying home. They see nothing of the waterfront, of The Beatles, of our culture. They see coffee machines, waiting rooms and staff. Just like our museums the people in these hospitals are our ambassadors too. We must protect them with the same fervour we do our galleries.
You can support the work the Walton Centre does, by donating to their Neuroscience fund here . Their charity benefits patients by providing extra facilities; research; and training for staff to learn new techniques.
The Walton Centre for Neurology
Lower Lane, Fazakerley