Celebs including Katie Piper and Paul McCartney share emotional love letters to NHS
Katie Piper has penned an emotional tribute to the hard-working NHS staff who transformed her from a “victim to survivor” following a horrific acid attach in 2008
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We have all regularly applauded the NHS heroes getting us through the coronavirus crisis.
And now celebrities have said thank you by contributing touching accounts of their own experiences with the NHS to a bestselling book.
Adam Kay’s Dear NHS: 100 Stories to Say Thank You has also inspired many stars to appear in a BBC special, Dear NHS Superstars, which screens tomorrow at 9pm.
Here, campaigner Katie Piper, comedian Jack Whitehall and Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney share their stories of gratitude.
I arrived unconscious, partially clothed and faceless. My identity melted away.
My status wasn’t important to you; neither was my profession nor my possessions. No judgement, just good-quality care and fair treatment for all.
Triaged as: “Female, 24 years old, 22% full thickness acid burns to face and body, ingestion of acid and currently no sight in either eye.”
I could have been just another admission to your already bursting wards, a number on your sheet.
But you treated me as if I were your own. Like the daughter, sister and niece that I was.
It’s fair to say we kind of moved in together, me and you, Katie and the NHS.
You let me sleep over for three solid months. We started in ICU and I gradually tried out every bed in the house: high-dependency, burns unit, main ward, endoscopy, the eye clinic, ENT, physio, plastics, psychology, maxillofacial, orthodontic and dermatology.
Quite the list, when we all thought upon arrival that the only additional room I would be seeing beyond ICU was the morgue.
I skipped a bit of our time together, spending some time in a coma, but that was when you turned your care to my traumatised family, supporting them mentally as if they were the ones sick in the bed.
Your compassion, empathy and dedication goes way beyond your job role.
No lunch breaks, clock watching or legging it out of the door the minute the shift ends. Staying on past the end of shifts to hold hands, working unpaid overtime. Care and compassion is the driving force always at the forefront of your exhausted minds.
I didn’t realise it on the day we met but that was it, I would never fully leave you again.
You have been in and out of my life, putting me back together and keeping me alive still to this day, 12 years on.
We’ve been through some real highs and lows together but you gave me a second chance at life when many feared my time was up.
Then you helped me to give life to my two baby girls – from beginning to the end, you held my hand once again.
NHS, you’ve taken me from victim to survivor, and finally to proud mother. How will I ever repay you?
I winced when I heard people publicly discuss you, people who didn’t understand you or what you were doing every single day; what you witnessed, what you absorbed and what you gave.
As they debated whether we needed you, I felt an anger rise and a tear drop. You are the backbone of our country; take you away and we all fall down.
Thank you, NHS. I owe my life to you – you fixed me when I was broken, battered and hopeless.
You made the impossible possible.
You are what puts Britain on the healthcare map. NHS, you truly are the heart and pride of this country.”
I’d never been to a children’s ward, let alone a children’s cancer ward, so didn’t know what to expect on my first visit to the Oak Centre for Children and Young People at Royal Marsden Hospital.
It was Christmas week 2017 and I was visiting to meet the patients and bring some seasonal cheer. One of them was George, who had just finished 12 months of treatment for a very rare form of cancer called Ewing sarcoma.
I was fully prepared to be faced with a child at death’s door, bed-ridden, semi-conscious and haunted. So I was shocked to arrive and find an empty bed.
“Where’s George?” I asked the nurse, bracing myself.
“He’s playing football in the corridor with his brother,” she replied very casually. “I think they need a goalie.”
I went out to find them both charging around the corridor. “You’re late, get in goal please!” yelled George at me.
His little bald head, the feeding tube coming out of his nose and his sallow complexion belied the bundle of energy bouncing in front of me.
I took my position between the posts – well, the door frame repurposed as their goal. George stood over the ball and sized up his options. I remember thinking whatever you do, DON’T save this penalty. If you don’t let him score, you are going straight to hell.
He’d barely started his run-up when I fully committed to the dive, ushering him to roll the ball into the gaping space I’d left for him.
Unfortunately, George shanked his kick directly into one of my flailing legs.
An awkward moment ensued. Did he really just save a five-year-old cancer patient’s penalty?
“Encroachment!” I announced authoritatively, pointing at a random doctor. “You’ll have to take it again.”
The second time, I stayed rooted to the spot and George creamed it into the top left corner. The crowd erupted into whoops and applause, relief for everyone. Other than the poor sod who’d have to fix the cracked glass in the door.
The experiences I have shared with some of the extraordinary patients on my visits there have helped shape my understanding of The Royal Marsden and probably all NHS children’s cancer wards like it.
Places which, on paper, should be the most depressing to visit on Earth but are actually full of not just bravery, courage and tales of extraordinary resilience in the face of terrifying adversity but also hope, compassion, love, care, positivity and – most unexpectedly – laughter.
That’s down to both the attitude of the patients and the phenomenal and dedicated NHS staff.
As far back as I can remember, my mother was a nurse. She became a sister on an NHS ward and later was a midwife, so my feelings about the NHS are obvious – it’s a fantastic institution.
I know anyone who works for them sees it as their vocation and is a real hero.
One of my outstanding memories is that, one night, in the winter in Liverpool, where we lived in the midwife’s house, my mother was called out to assist a local lady in giving birth to her baby.
I remember standing by the front door watching her leave the house on her midwife’s bicycle with a basket on the front and her medical case on the back.
The road was covered in a good few inches of snow but she had no alternative other than to go to the birth in her midwife’s uniform on her standard-issue NHS bicycle. She set off leaving tyre tracks in the snow.
That moment will be with me for ever and encapsulates my pride in, and gratitude for, the National Health Service. We are so lucky in the UK to have such dedicated people to look after us all and no matter who you are, you can still benefit from this fantastic system. Thanks NHS. Thanks heroes. Thanks Mum.
Hustle actor Adrian is one of many celebrities appearing in Dear NHS Superstars, a spin-off programme from the book on BBC1 tonight at 9pm. Here, he shares how one doctor changed his life by taking a little extra time…
I suffered with asthma all my life. When I was younger and had an attack, I had to just ride it out. I remember going to visit a new doctor and we talked about getting some inhalers and things I needed.
He said to me: “Has anyone ever told you what asthma is?” I said no.
He turned this paper over and he drew what looked like an upside down tree. He took a little while to draw it and showed me and said: “That’s your lung. Imagine your air comes in here, the leaves are the alveoli, the bronchial tubes are the twigs.”
And then he intricately described exactly what happened when I had an asthma attack. Ever since that day, whenever I have an attack, the image that he drew for me stays in my mind and I can picture exactly what’s going on in my body and I manage it really well now. It’s very controlled.
When I describe what asthma is to kids, I tell them about a tree.
If I could say anything to that doctor, I’d say thank you.
Thanks for taking that time, because it has meant a lot to me over the years.
- Extracted by Rhian Lubin from DEAR NHS: 100 Stories to Say Thank available in ebook and audio. All profits from the sales of this book go to You, edited by Adam Kay, published by Trapeze. Hardcover: £16.99. Also NHS Charities Together and The Lullaby Trust.