How I found the true meaning of love in an NHS critical care ward, writes ... trends now
I am lying in a critical care ward of an NHS hospital, having been rushed here by ambulance. It is the type of place that we all dread going - a place of wires and needles and clinical coldness. A place where people only stay for four days: they either recover or they don't.
When I arrived, it was late November and I was beyond fear or thought of death. I was too unwell and needed urgent treatment.
I had woken in the night at home, in pain and knowing that something was deeply wrong. I sensed there wasn't even time to phone my son, who lives down the road, so I called for my neighbour above. She took one look at me and rang for an ambulance.
It turns out I have a kidney infection.
At first, I hardly registered the three other mothers in the ward and their visiting middle-aged children. But by day two, they came into focus.
Next to me, Katerina, a Greek-born, 97-year-old redhead, lies motionless, flat on her back. Her 68-year-old economist daughter, Irene, sleeps at night next to her mother under her puffer coat on two chairs. She has brought her own snack food and, for the past four days, she has never left her mother, who doesn't move. Her mother's hand moves slightly and instantly her daughter is at her side, whispering to her mother who does not respond.
Few of us really understand the force and power of real love until we are about to lose it (Stock Image)
In the far corner of the ward lies Deborah from Nigeria, a large lady wearing a black woolly hat who is 91-years-old, like me. She eats almost nothing. A surge of quiet family dressed in black appears every afternoon and sit quietly. After they leave, Deborah's side table looks like a supermarket counter: another way of showing love.
In the bed opposite me is 97-year-old Gloria, a slender, faded blonde in an ice-green dressing gown, who does not seem to know where she is.
All day, her balding middle-aged son Chris has talked to her in a low voice. They play some game on her tablet and he tells her what move to make, then guides her hand. She always wins. He reads to her. Gloria may be listening, but she stares vacantly ahead. Carefully, he adjusts earphones on her head to play music. Gloria presses the wrong button and Scarlatti blares through the ward until her son grabs the switch.
The music only interests Gloria for five minutes because she finds the earphones uncomfortable, so tears them off. She must have been a wonderful mother, I think, as her son gently replaces the earpods and reads to her. Gloria closes her eyes.
He peers closely at her face. I hope for his sake that she is asleep - but she isn't. As soon as she opens her eyes, he starts to gently stroke her hand. He has been doing this for four days, Irene tells me.
Chris comes over to me and says apologetically he hopes he isn't speaking too loudly, but his mother is deaf. Chris has been driving since 6am that morning and he's off to get a cup of coffee, but he'll be back shortly. Will I keep an eye on her and ring for a nurse if she tries to get out of bed? Yesterday, she thought he was trying to tie her up in rope and throw her in a cellar and she got a bit agitated.
This embracing love for a worn-out, tired person is almost touchable. It fills the ward like the scent of hyacinths: indescribable and invisible but