Followers of this blog may have noticed that there has been a long silence since the summer, when I wrote about the joy that is the annual stroke care audit in Scotland. Blessed relief? Serious illness? Death? Nothing so dramatic. Sometimes, your blog has to fall silent, you have to laugh, nurse your wounds and simply be grateful for your fellow man and woman.
On a pleasant day in mid-August, Johanna, Archie and I were walking through the Bell Wood near Aboyne on Deeside. Cheerful chatter and clashing opinions ricocheted snappily between Johanna and me. Archie, meanwhile, was displaying his usual mix of obstinacy, disobedience and whippety charm. Our walk was almost over when a tree root, a stone, my foot or part of the dog jumped up and caused me to fall flat on my face.
I lay floundering on the ground, unable to get up because of shooting pain in my left arm, and Johanna was unable to hoist me to my feet. After a few moments, a young woman came along, pushing her baby in a pram. She was accompanied by a little black dog. As Archie and her dog made friends and began to lick each other and me, she revealed that she also had a mobile phone, that her father was an off-duty paramedic, that he lived a short distance away and that she would give him a call. The baby grizzled slightly.
Reader, I will spare you the details, but within a few minutes the baby had cheered up and that woman’s father had me on my feet, marched out of the Bell Wood and ordered to report to Aboyne hospital forthwith. His name is Derek Grant, and Johanna and I are eternally grateful for his kindness. At the hospital, I was quickly x-rayed, strapped up by friendly staff, offered painkillers and given a video call to the emergency department in Aberdeen. The consultant there diagnosed a broken humerus, offered reassurance, practical advice and told me to be patient.
Later that day I tweeted painfully:
Within a short time, that tweet had been re-tweeted and had acquired more than a dozen ”likes”. If that sentence means nothing to you, then you are an innocent in the world of social media – and probably the happier for it. You will have to take my word that those reactions mean people appreciated the sentiments behind what I had said.
You will notice that, in extending my gratitude, I copied in NHS Grampian and our local health and social care partnership.
For the last four years, I have been a non-executive member on the Board of NHS Grampian. It has been an interesting and challenging time, particularly as it has coincided with ambitious plans nationally to integrate health and social care. The system is not perfect – far from it. But it has been a privilege to see the commitment, energy and sheer hard work of our health and social care staff at all levels across the north-east of Scotland. It has also been fascinating to be involved in the strategic thinking that has to go on behind the scenes to make our health and social care services function at all in the cash-strapped environment in which they currently operate.
On that day in August, having just returned from a meeting about strategic plans for health care in Grampian, I was brought down to earth – literally – and experienced the system at the sharp end. I was lucky to break my arm at the very time when a paramedic’s daughter happened to be walking in the same wood; when the x-ray service in Aboyne hospital was fully manned; when a consultant was available to see me via video link from Aberdeen. A few days later an occupational therapist arrived with a shower chair and a lever to help me get out of bed in the morning. I have since received excellent physiotherapy and hydrotherapy for general strengthening. When the system works well, like this, it is great for patients. I am fully aware that it is not always so, but one constant that is always there is the willing professionalism of the people who work at the heart of it.
By comparison with many parts of the world, we are lucky to have an effective health and social care system at all. Having been silent on this blog for so long while recovering, I have had time to reflect on the four years I have spent as a very small cog in the complex machine that is the NHS in Scotland. I fear that followers of this blog may be subjected to a regurgitation of some of those thoughts in 2019 – you may care to look away now.