’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse ……’

The 1st of December marks, at least in my head, the beginning of the festive season and about the time the big Hollywood studios start to launch their Christmas fare. When my daughters’ were growing-up their favourites and possibly mine, were ‘Home Alone’, followed closely by ‘Nativity’, ‘Love Actually’ and ‘The Grinch’. Although I love ‘A Christmas Carol’, it doesn’t quite nail the feel-good factor that comes with Tinseltown movies.

It only hit home to me watching Gogglebox last Friday night how important Christmas is to the family and extended family. I was truly touched to see Goggleboxers burst into tears when Boris Johnson announced the relaxing of the lockdown rules for Christmas. One Goggleboxer said she could now order the Christmas turkey for the family dinner and whilst another couldn’t wait to give her gran a hug (make it a safe hug by self-isolating for 10 days beforehand to make sure you are virus-free). The modern Christmas is about family, which is why my thoughts go out to all those unsung heroes who keep the NHS working; yes, those wonderful nurses, nursing assistants, therapists, cleaners, porters, cooks and helpers who recently looked after me in King’s Collge Hospital.

It may be politically incorrect to say this, but I am going to say it anyway. Eight or nine out of ten of the ‘unsung heroes and heroines’ who looked after me so well on the David Marsden neurosurgery ward were not native English. The overwhelming majority were from beyond these shores, yes ethnic minorities from all over the world. Far East Asia (Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore), Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh), Africans (Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, South Africa) and Europe (Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Polish) and possibly a few other nationalities that I have forgotten about.

A significant number of the staff, particularly, the wonderful Filipino nurses, who were recently recruited and did not have settled status in the UK and were living in hospital- or shared-subsidised accommodation and were sending money home to support their children and families, were not going home for Christmas. Almost all of them were spending Christmas working, doing extra shifts, to keep the NHS running.

During my two weeks in the hospital, I don’t think there was a single shift when the ward had a full complement of nurses. In other words, the ward was running on half a tank of fuel. If you work in any organisation you know that it is fine to fill in the gaps when colleagues, such as me, are off work for a short period of time. But when over-working becomes the norm it affects morale. It is no fun to be exhausted all the time and not being able to complete a shift or day at work, and have the satisfaction of knowing you have done a good job. Yes, you need time to do a good job; when you are always rushing you miss things and are more likely to make mistakes.

Despite the extraordinary working conditions all the support staff smiled and made every effort to make me comfortable and look after my needs. It was clear that they really cared. I was particularly impressed by how well they managed a patient with complex needs in the bed opposite me. He was very disabled, unable to speak and doubly incontinent, and the way the nursing staff spoke and managed him, even when he required a bath and change of bed linen in the early hours of the morning, was truly remarkable. This is why these people are the unsung heroes and heroines of the NHS!

It is no different with MS care. Can you imagine what would happen to MS services without nurse specialists, infusion nurses, administrators, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, medical technologists, drivers, radiographers to name but a few? The NHS is a complex system and it works because we all pull our weight.

The dedication and motivation of the Kings’ College staff say a lot about the nursing leadership, not only of the ward but the hospital as well. The head nurse was very impressive and clearly runs a tight ship under quite trying conditions. She is very hands-on and worked like all the other nurses. In other words, she leads by example and I am sure this is why her staff are so motivated.

Leadership is something that should not be underestimated. Just look at the COVID-19 pandemic and which countries are handling it better than others. It is often down to inspired and trustworthy leadership. When you admire and trust a leader who has vision and conviction you are more likely to listen and follow. This message has not passed us by and is why we have included a leadership training programme as part of our MS Acadamy Raising the Bar (RtB) initiative, i.e. to train the next generation of MS leaders who are going to transform NHS services for pwMS.

An example of walking the extra mile is the relationship I formed with one of the nursing assistants who looked after me at King’s. As I was not able to mobilise because of pain for at least 10 days I had to have everything done for me, including bed baths; he was one of my bed bathers. During my stay, I heard his back story and how he had left the Ivory Coast to live in France and had finally arrived in the UK and had settled in London. Despite being super busy he took time out of his busy day to teach me a little about Ivory Coast and its music. I can now count myself a fan of Tiken Jah Fakoly an Ivory Coast Popstar. When I got speaking to one of the ward contract cleaners, who I found out was also from the Ivory coast, and asked her if she liked Tiken Jah Fakoly she was clearly bowled over. How did I know about Tiken Jah Fakoly? I was even able to stream some of his music via my smartphone while she cleaned my cubicle. On hearing the music of her fellow countryman she did a little Ivory Coast jiggle and walked proudly.

Then there were the therapists who helped me mobilise and taught me to walk and do stairs. Without their time, patience and care I would probably have had to spend another week or two dong inpatient rehabilitation. One of the physiotherapists designed a supine work-out routine for my upper and lower body to make sure I don’t lose strength and muscle mass whilst my fractures heal and I get fully mobile. I have now modified this routine to using weights and have extended it so that it now lasts an hour.

It is the recollection of these sorts of moments that have made me determined to focus on the positives and not the negatives of my accident. I keep reminding myself that I could have had a severe head or spinal cord injury.

Yes, I am home alone. Today marks the first day in my recovery that my wife has gone back to work and left me at home to my own devices. I am now independent and on the road to hopefully a full recovery, which is thanks to the rainbow nation of NHS staff who have gotten me here.

Thank you and I sincerely hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

CoI: multiple

Twitter & Medium: @gavingiovannoni

Originally published at https://multiple-sclerosis-research.org on December 1, 2020.

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