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BBC's Nolan tells of heartache as mum Audrey hospitalised with pneumonia

By Stephen Nolan

Published 04/11/2015

Presenter Stephen Nolan
Presenter Stephen Nolan
Stephen Nolan and mum Audrey larking around in the grounds of Belfast City Hall
Audrey relaxing at home

I was on air last week when the most important person in my life was taken into hospital with pneumonia.

Paramedics were carrying my mum out of her house and I wasn't there for her.

I felt a deep sense of guilt.

I didn't know she was in danger as I was on the radio, but the reality is I was working when Audrey needed me. I hated that.

I rushed up to the hospital as soon as I got the call. The pillar in my life looked weak. Pneumonia can be dangerous at any age and very much so in the elderly.

My brain finds it difficult to compute how my mum is anything but invincible and the hospital gave me a number of reality checks, which I would like to share with you all in this article.

Firstly, it is how profoundly lucky I am to have such a loving mother. I try to be a good son, but I do take it for granted that she will be around forever. I've no concept of her not being around to drive me insane, as she does every day. I guess I'm simply saying that for those of us who are lucky enough to still have a parent alive, we should think more about what we want to say to them - and what we want to do with them - while they are still here.

The second reality check was me becoming more self-aware of our bodies being machines that can easily break down.

For those of us lucky to have it, we all take daily, healthy life for granted. As I walked through the Royal Hospital twice a day, every day, I was bombarded with sick bodies. That is what is in hospitals, but because I lead a busy life I don't think about it.

I saw quite a few people who were in wheelchairs because they had clearly had an amputation. I've no idea whether that was down to diabetes or not, but it certainly made me think about myself.

When I think about how I am self-destructing my own body with food, it makes me feel so guilty. And yet I can't seem to crack it. Obesity is a demon that continues to ravage me and I need to keep trying to beat it until I win. I will keep fighting, but at the moment I'm losing.

Hospital also made me think about old age. That was my third reality check. The wards are full of elderly people. Old age scares me. My whole life is based on stretching myself, achieving, proving snobs wrong, earning money, and I don't have time to even think about what day of the week it is most times. If I ever live that long, I'm not sure how I will cope with the loneliness and the free time.

As I said, old age scares me.

And yet, I had another reality check last week. I presume I have lots of time in the future. It is a dangerous presumption. I have dreams of what I'll do in the future when I'm not doing nine radio shows a week, plus a live television show, plus more and more work. Dreams about doing what I want to get around to doing in terms of someone to love, travel, friends and experiences I want to have outside work. I was reminded last week how I should live for today rather than dream about tomorrow.

A young man aged 18 asked me for a selfie. He looked so healthy and thought he would leave hospital within 24 hours. The next day he had a relapse and was in intensive care.

The nurses and doctors saved his life and I've kept in touch with that young man. And that leads me to the most important reality check of all.

The sensational human beings who work in the NHS. I know we often compliment doctors and nurses, but I was reminded this week again just how special they are. Every time I said thank you to a nurse or doctor in the RVH they smiled and said "no problem".

But thank you wasn't enough to describe what was actually in my brain.

I do wonder if NHS staff become indifferent to the incredible impact they have on our society in Northern Ireland.

You are very special people.

From Dr Currie on the Shankill Road who didn't just decide to move on to the next person, but who phoned back twice because he cared - thank you. It was that second call that resulted in the paramedics coming out to my mother.

Paramedics - think about them - total strangers who must have more skill in their little fingers than most of us, and certainly more than me. What an incredible job you do.

I watched nurses in ward 5E of the Royal Victoria Hospital run off their feet. Wow, what special people you are and what an incredible job it is that you do. Thank you for being so talented.

I was humbled and embarrassed by the status my job brings me, and I was reminded of it in the RVH. You see, all I am is a good communicator. That is all I do. Over the last week I couldn't walk around the hospital without someone complimenting me on my show or wanting a selfie or saying thank you.

Thank you for what? I look into a camera and I talk. That's it. The power of celebrity is vacuous. But a nurse's power to be kind is incredible. A doctor's power to save life is mind-blowing.

And so, as a man that simply talks for a living, I say to all the staff of the NHS in Northern Ireland... you are the real stars.

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