Have you ever smelled something and had an immediate flashback to a long-forgotten memory? Occasionally, when this happens to me, I often find the recollection is just out-of-reach, like a word on the tip of my tongue; I know it’s there, but I can’t quite grasp it.
On other occasions, smells are associated with emotions. For many people, the scent of freshly-baked bread brings a feeling of warmth or homeliness. That is why supermarkets reroute the extraction pipes from the bakery ovens to output over the entrance; your arrival is greeted with a sense of coming home, of being welcomed, and is coupled with the sight of fresh fruit and vegetables—a visual cue of freshness, health and wellbeing—to pull you into the store.
One such smell that people often connect with—me included—is that of coffee. I’m not talking freeze-dried instant not-really-coffee-but-everyone-pretends-otherwise rubbish, but real roasted ground coffee beans. The roasting brings one layer, the grinding another, and the passing through of close-to-but-not-quite-boiling water a third. It is a rich and empowering smell that is also comforting and familiar.
When I’m stressed, when I’m particularly worried, or when I need some kind of comfort, I crave coffee—particularly the smell. That is why I am very grateful for the 24-hour Costa coffee dispensing machines in QEQM.
I’m not one to often write about my personal life, and rarely do I mention anything beyond writing or the activities associated with being a writer, but on this occasion I am going to break protocol somewhat.
I spent a while in hospital recently, having a baby. In fairness, my wife did all the work; my job was to be there for her, help in any way I could, and offer as much support as possible. We were in for longer than we anticipated, though now we are home safe and sound with our firstborn.
Whilst I was there, three things kept me going through many sleepless nights. The first was the hope of being able to go home with healthy family. The second was the smell and taste of fresh real—not instant—coffee at the swipe of a card from a vending machine. The third was the NHS staff.
The reason I mention this—other than excusing my absence from the pages of the Isle of Thanet News—is because of what I experienced at QEQM in Margate.
Beforehand, my wife and I both expected the staff to be good at their jobs, positive, and helpful. What we did not expect—and what completely amazed both of us—was the level of care, compassion, and empathy shown by every single member of staff we encountered. From Midwives to Healthcare Assistants, Consultants to Porters, Surgeons and Anaesthetists to Cleaners and Receptionists, they were all incredible.
The NHS receives a lot of criticism, particularly in the press, but in fact the people that are providing the services the NHS offer are truly outstanding. I am humbled and awestruck by their thoughtfulness and how much they all genuinely care for each and every patient. We felt like we were getting VIP treatment in terms of the quality of care, yet we got exactly the same as everyone else.
Whilst we were there, and since, I have spoken to other maternity patients to gather their opinions; all of them have said the same thing: the staff are fantastic. I don’t mean that in a basic platitude kind-of-way, but as a pure statement of absolute appreciation and surprise. They are amazing.
Unfortunately, I was also witness to how overstretched they all are. I saw first-hand how low on resources the NHS is, how much funding is desperately needed just for one department, and how difficult the conditions must be to work in when all you are trying to do is the best for those in your care.
The NHS is often cited as the best national healthcare in the world—and in terms of frontline staff, I can believe it—but to keep that standard it needs investment and resources. The staff may well put their patients first, but from what I can see those at the top do not. Nor do they put their staff first. Their priorities are either swept up in the short-term popularity contests of modern identity politics—in which case shame on them—or they have simply lost sight of what the NHS is as they are just paying attention to the accounts.
NHS stands for National Health Service. There is no asterisk, no small-print disclaimer defining maximum patient value. Money should not be a factor in the decisions made about people’s health, wellbeing, or lives. The NHS is not a pawn to be played for personal or political gain.
Much like the under-resourced Police, or the thinly-stretched Fire Department, the NHS needs more support. Public services such as these are so often taken for granted—and I will admit my own part in that—but they shouldn’t be. They are amazing, they are incredible, and they are at risk.
The standard of service given is truly outstanding, and I am honoured to have spent time with the people delivering that service. I would like to extend my sincerest thanks and admiration to the maternity staff at QEQM. You are a credit to the hospital, the NHS, the country, the human race, and to yourselves. You are wonderful and you deserve better.
As someone who enjoys proper coffee, and who drinks it daily, I now associate the smell with something more than a vague sense of comfort. The memory is no longer out-of-reach, but definitely within my grasp.
The smell of coffee reminds me of you, the NHS staff who were part of bringing my child into the world, who cared for my wife and baby, who put their needs before your own, who showed such dedication and compassion.
I raise my cup to you in thanks.