I would like to tell you all a story. It is very sad in parts but if you stick with it to the end I think it will be worth it. I want to tell you this story because if it were not for you, yes you reader, this story would be much sadder.
Over 22 years ago my cousin Paul and his wife parted. This did not happen on good terms and while I will admit my familial bias I think if you show up at your house and find another man sitting on your couch the divorce that follows will not be a pleasant one. Paul’s daughter, Rebecca, was about four years old at the time and sadly a successful campaign of paternal estrangement was waged. Paul paid his child support but was kept from seeing his daughter again.
Paul desperately wanted to see Rebecca, but he didn’t know how to reconnect given everything that happened. Would Rebecca have believed the lies? Would she reject him? He used to drive around the neighborhood trying to find her. He didn’t know what he would do if he were successful but he just longed to see her. Unbeknownst to Paul his sister, my other cousin Helen, used to drive their elderly mother Margaret around the neighborhood also hoping to catch a glimpse of Rebecca. My Uncle Joe’s dying wish had been to see his granddaughter Rebecca again and that wish went unfulfilled.
In 2014 I was in England with my children and my son Victor had a minor eye emergency. He was treated at St. Thomas hospital. The care was excellent. I wrote about it and the story went viral. It seems there was lots of NHS bashing at the time and a positive story was welcome. I wanted to thank the excellent providers, show the U.K. what an outsider thought, and tell America that the NHS was not a collection of Dickensian poor houses.
Last year I was in England and had another interaction with the NHS. This time taking my cousin Helen to Sunderland Royal Hospital with a broken ankle. Once again the NHS showed us lots of love so I wrote about it. That post garnered even more attention than the first. It was even re tweeted by J.K. Rowling. The greater reach of this second post was partly attributable to my growing profile as a blogger, the fact that I had now accrued a base who supported the NHS thanks to the first post that I wrote, and of course people in the U.K. do like periodic reminders from outsiders about how good things are relative to other health systems. It is nice to be told that your grass is actually greener.
The post about my cousin’s ankle was in the news so much that it caught the eye of a local Sunderland Echo reporter, Kevin Clark. He contacted me via Twitter and published a print article using my photo of Helen (with permission of course).
Rebecca, who had no contact with my family for 22 years, saw that article. She had missed the online frenzy but when she saw a picture of her aunt in the local newspaper all she could think of was, “She needs us.” (For those of you unfamiliar with Geordie using “us” for “we” is local vernacular). The name, location, and red hair was a dead giveaway that Helen was her aunt.
Rebecca had desperately wanted to find her family. All the while her dad and aunt and grandparents were searching and longing for her she was longing for them. She had thought about reaching out but just couldn’t make the leap. She had the same fears. Would she be rejected? Maybe what she had been told was true?
The picture of her aunt Helen in the Sunderland Echo was the tipping point that led Rebecca to reach out and so she sent a letter. My family had an opportunity to work on being whole again.
Rebecca has reconnected with her father, her aunt, her cousin and of course me and my lot. She had 6 months of precious time with my Aunt Margaret who passed away in June from complications of tuberculosis (TB). Margaret caught TB at the age of 13 or 14 before any antimicrobial therapy existed and spent three years as a teenager in a TB sanatorium. She had risky lung surgery as a teenager that involved removal of some ribs (likely a thoracoplasty) and also oil injected around the other lung and what followed was a life long battle against the havoc that therapy had wrecked upon her lungs. My aunt made it to 81 years of age because she was a very strong person but also because of the truly amazing care that she received from socialized medicine. The children’s TB sanatorium was pre NHS but free due to funding by a charity and then from 1948 onwards she was cared for expertly by NHS providers and hospitals.
My aunt Margaret never avoided the emergency department because she was without coverage or skipped imaging studies because of copayments or was worried that she would run out of oxygen benefits. I believe the NHS is directly responsible for extending my Aunt’s life and thus giving Rebecca 6 precious months with her grandmother that she might not have had in another health care system. During these 6 months Rebecca received lots of backlogged love, heard family stories, just sat and had tea, and laughed at the Big Bang Theory. My 81-year-old aunt who had never used a computer and Rebecca (my cousin one removed, I think) finishing up her masters in criminology bonded over the Big Bang Theory. No one knew that was their shared joy. I’m not sure why I love that part of the story so much but I just do.
I had the pleasure of meeting Rebecca and her wife this month and all I can say is we have missed out on so much but we are making up for lost time.
Having this amazing young woman back in our lives is a gift and if you (yes, you) have ever shared anything I have written you have had a role because having a higher profile online made it easier for my first and second NHS posts to go viral.
If the NHS hadn’t taken such good care of my son and the response hadn’t been so positive back in 2014 I wouldn’t have blogged about my cousin’s amazing care at Sunderland Royal Hospital in 2016.
If hundreds and thousands of people (including J.K. Rowling) had not liked my post about Helen’s care at Sunderland Royal Hospital on Facebook and/or re tweeted then it wouldn’t have merited attention from so many news sites.
If the post hadn’t gone viral Kevin Clark wouldn’t have written about it in the Sunderland Echo and Rebecca might never have seen that picture of Helen. She may have eventually reached out, but given how ill Margaret was in this past year if Rebecca had waited much longer she might have missed the closing window to reconnect with her grandmother and what a terrible shame that would have been. Having Rebecca back in her life was a great comfort to Margaret.
If the NHS had not taken such good care of my Aunt she would not have lived to laugh at the Big Bang Theory while sharing tea with her granddaughter who was once lost but is now found. She would not have lived to see the wonderful, amazing woman that she has become.
If you hadn’t all helped my family would not be whole.
So thank you. Every one of you.