The Blue Light
Next time any of you are driving westbound along the M8 motorway at night, near the Townhead interchange, keep an eye out for a five storey building on the left hand side of the road from which will be shining only one blue light. That blue light will be shining from the westmost window on the third floor.
That building is the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital, and the shining of the blue light means that its neonatal intensive care unit is, thank God, in all His infinite goodness and mercy, still open for business. If any readers of this blog are men living in Glasgow who wish to become fathers but have not yet done so, take it from me that it is the one room in this city you should not ever wish to enter. To have to do so means that you are living a nightmare, the most horrible experience of your life. The only consolation of having to do so will be receiving the very great privilege of not merely seeing but also interacting with the people who work there, masters of the rawest, edgiest form of medicine there is, the care of critically ill patients who are completely unable to communicate. These folks aren't just doctors, nurses and midwives; you must need the nerves of astronauts to be able to do what they do.
I saw my son for the first time in that blue-lit room, at a quarter to six in the morning, a perfect little human being covered in sensors and wires, his mouth visibly the same shape as his mother's; and to my shame I still do not know the name of the surgeon who delivered him, that Indian maestro who saved both his and his mother's lives.
What sort of person makes a 'prank' call to a hospital at half past five in the morning? During the thirty hours that my wee boy lived in that blue-lit room, and all throughout the twenty-six subsequent days of his stay in the Princess Royal, the staff who cared for him were available to talk 24/7, no matter what else they had to do. It seems to me that only someone who has no understanding of what goes on in places where pregnant women are treated for complications arising from pregnancy could actually bother nurses trying to treat two people sharing the same body for no cause higher than their own or others' entertainment. That's what the phone call made to the King Edward VII Hospital by Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the one answered by Jacintha Saldanha, was all about - having a laugh, a prank, a joke. To a maternity ward? At half past five in the morning? For a joke?
For a laugh?
The regard in which Sister Saldanha was held by her employers and colleagues is plain, and it's just so sad that she should have passed so soon after two desperately thoughtless and clearly not very creative people, situated on the other side of the world, should have taken such a monstrous liberty with her professionalism. For it was because she was such a good professional that she did answer the phone. In working environments like hers, you don't get to be as well-liked by your colleagues as she was by not answering the phone at half past five in the morning. For all she knew, the people on the other end of the line could really have been anxious relatives keen to enquire after the welfare of a beloved daughter or daughter-in-law. The idea that she was really speaking to a pair of paid slackers with no qualms about disrupting serious people engaged in serious work probably just wouldn't have occurred to her; after all, what right-thinking person would actually do such a thing?
It's just such a pity that those two people elected to impose themselves on Sister Saldanha in that way, for she is not their only victim. If her passing is in any way connected to the actions of Mel Greig and Michael Christian, then I would think it highly likely that Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be unable to recall their wait for their first child without considering the extremely sad consequences which have followed from the actions of two of their more undoubtedly second-rate future subjects. They may be privileged and so on and so on, but they are also expectant parents, and as entitled to enjoy that experience as anyone else. Greig and Christian might just have diminished the joy to which a young couple in their position are entitled: I hope they enjoyed their joke.
The ultimate tragedy is, of course, for Sister Saldanha's family; may God be with them. Yet the staff of the King Edward VII Hospital have also suffered a loss. As one very clever consultant paediatrician once explained to me, in words which should be etched in stone on every surface in every place where human beings have to work together to achieve a common goal, what affects one person in such a place affects every person in such a place. Her passing will leave her colleagues with more work to do, but they will pick up the slack and get on with the job because they are professionals, serious people engaged in serious work; there are sick mothers and babies to be cared for, and there will always be as great an abundance of them as there will be of idiots with too much time on their hands.
Next time you see the blue light, whether it be in Marylebone or Townhead, think of Sister Saldanha. As long as it's shining, it means that there are still people like her abroad in the world - and that means that the world still just might be a better place than you imagined.
Labels: The Way We Live Now