Belfast Telegraph

BBC reporter Declan Lawn thanks medical staff for best Christmas present ever

BBC reporter Declan Lawn's daughter, Mary, was rushed to hospital two weeks ago suffering from a mystery infection. Now well on her way to recovery, Declan thanks the medical staff for his greatest Christmas present ever.

Happy Christmas to my daughter, Mary, who has recently taught us a thing or two about Christmas and who gave us a few scares in the process.

Happy Christmas to the doctor who, two weeks ago, was concerned enough about the pain in her back to send her immediately for a scan and who, on seeing that scan, grew worried and called us back for more tests.

Happy Christmas to my wife, Breige, the only person on earth who could have kept me relatively sane during that tortuous wait.

Happy Christmas to the radiographer, who, the next day, told us it was an infection - a serious one, but an infection - and who watched with hard-won understanding as I wept uncontrollable tears of relief.

Happy Christmas - as happy as it can possibly be - to those parents who have received more serious news and to the doctors and nurses who will work this Christmas and beyond to look after those children and their families.

Happy Christmas to the medical staff in the children's ward at Musgrave Park Hospital who, over the last 10 days, set about battling my daughter's infection.

Happy Christmas to that first consultant, on that first day, whose bedside manner performed miracles; who explained to my daughter what a cannula was, where it would go in her arm and why the medicine that dripped through it would make her better, thus turning terrified tears into the offer of an extended, shaking, but determined arm.

Happy Christmas to the nurses, whose solicitude and tenderness and humour and grace made us marvel several times an hour.

Happy Christmas to the ward sisters who are, in reality, not ward sisters at all, but professional jugglers of rare and fragile artefacts and who never drop anything and who performed logistical magic to make sure that each night either I, or my wife, had somewhere to sleep (which seems like a small thing until you are with a sick child and you have nowhere to sleep and then - because somebody cares - you do).

Happy Christmas to every nurse who crept in to my daughter's bedside in the middle of the night to change her IV line so quietly and so expertly that she did not wake up, and often, neither did I.

Happy Christmas to the magnificent women who run the "hospital school"; who know that what children in hospital want most of all is to understand that they are not so different from anyone else and that school still matters.

And so these gifted teachers sit each day surrounded by children of all ages; children with various ailments, some of whom cannot walk and so are wheeled to school in their hospital beds, all of them working hard for something that is often very difficult to think of when you're stuck in the eternal present of a hospital ward; the future.

Happy Christmas to the young man in his early 20s who delivered my daughter's meals three times a day and who, each time, would have a new joke to tell her, and who was undoubtedly part of the reason why she started eating again.

Happy Christmas to Santa, who one day visited the children's ward on an electric wheelchair creatively customised to look like a sleigh, reindeer and all, and whose visit reminded those of us who witnessed it of a different idea of Christmas - an idea that isn't often found in the city-centre shopping throngs, or the drunken parties; children leaving their beds and pushing their IV lines on portable stands and wheeling their wheelchairs to swarm around a man who for a few precious minutes made them forget about all of that.

Happy Christmas to every parent of every child in hospital whom we met over the last two weeks; people with tired eyes and pale skin and who yet offered smiles (weary smiles, but smiles nonetheless) to us, and who entered into a spirit of camaraderie and encouragement and reassurance that was inexpressibly welcome.

Happy Christmas to those children who will stay in hospital over this season and to their families, for whom Christmas day will not mean shutting out the world and retreating to the cocoon of the home, because it cannot, because someone in the family - some crucial and loved person - is not there; and so plans will be made, as parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends come up with a way to make it work somehow, simply make it work this year, for that child, and also perhaps their siblings back at home.

Happy Christmas to every nurse and doctor, who will share Christmas dinner with their families and then rise from the table and say goodbye and get ready to go to work; and who will do it not just because they have to, but because they want to - because they know that there are other people who need them, too.

Happy Christmas to the men and women who manage this system; this ragged and resilient and remarkable organisation which, with every passing year, is being asked to do more with less, and less, and then less again. This organisation, which you hope you never have to use and which, when you do, instils in your mind one strange and unexpected word: civilisation.

Happy Christmas, also, to the politicians who are elected to safeguard it, and who are faced with the unenviable task of protecting its essence against the mounting financial odds.

Because, when you see it up close, when it intervenes to save the life, or quell the illness of your child, you see it for what it is.

You realise that it is not just an entity, or a system, or three letters in a newspaper headline. It is people - just people - and there is something in many of these people that has drawn them to these kinds of jobs, and whatever that ineffable something is, it is special and inspirational.

In our house, this Christmas has not worked out as we had expected. We haven't attended any Christmas parties, or made any big shopping expeditions. Whatever worries we might have had about buying presents for our families, or buying more food than we could ever eat, were subsumed into one concern, about a little girl in a hospital bed.

And, yet, because of the people we have encountered over the last two weeks, in the confines of a children's hospital ward in Belfast, I don't think I have ever had a more meaningful Christmas season. I feel a little bit like Scrooge, throwing open his window on Christmas morning, with a completely new perspective on familiar things.

I hope it stays with me, this Christmas spirit of the children's ward - a spirit which, in that difficult place, seems to be present all year round.

So Happy Christmas to the men and women of the National Health Service who live out the real meaning of Christmas every single day of every year, and who this year returned our daughter to us, which is the best Christmas present I have ever been given.

Declan Lawn is a reporter for BBC's Panorama and BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programmes

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