At 6 p.m. on a damp late June evening, I look up from my book and see my husband across the room, faint and grey with pain. What to do? It’s Sunday, and whereas until recent years you couldn’t on a British Sunday buy a pound of carrots or see a play, these days you can’t be taken ill, unless you’re prepared for a long and uncertain wait for your GP’s deputising service. Go to A&E? Perhaps it can be avoided. A few weeks ago, he had a similar pain, and an abdominal X-ray showed no cause for alarm. He lies down. The pain ebbs. We spend a restless night, turning and muttering, waiting for Monday when crisis is more convenient.
Vol. 30 No. 17 · 11 September 2008
Hilary Mantel’s lament for the NHS amplifies a rising note in popular comment on British hospitals: the incapacity and rudeness of so many nurses (LRB, 14 August). A corollary is appreciation for a new phenomenon, the conscientious and communicative hospital doctor. These views disorientate us, given the long-standing stereotype that nurses are the under-remunerated angels of the ward, while doctors merely sweep through, grunting in Latin and cursing Nye Bevan between rounds of golf. One feature of my own recent experience in hospital gives further cause for alarm to the Daily Mail reader whom Mantel invokes, and perhaps reinforces her intuition that the problem has a wider, cultural basis. The best nurses – the routinely attentive and kindly ones, those with the vocational skill to recognise that not only is a jug of water best placed within your sight and reach, but that you might well need help to drink from it – were, with few exceptions, foreign. Perhaps the progressive soul might be consoled that some of those parked in hospital corridors will be disabused of their casual racism by the frequent superiority of these nurses.