Following Florence

Recorded and knit together by WSM
First aired on KWMR.org May 13 2020

In this new reality, a phrase that crosses my lips at least once a week is “Incandescent with Rage.” Usually by the time I come to write I have calmed down. But the feeling bubbles up and like waves rolling into the shore, heralds a possible storm at sea. This week it began – again – at Matt Hancock. A concise question from the Labour MP for Tooting, DR. Rosena Allin-Khan, about the continuing shortage of Personal Protective Equipment that was supposedly shipping from Turkey led him to respond that she should “Mind her Tone”.

And so it is UK people and businesses who step forward. On Princess Street there is a small sewing shop now closed. Walking past in the mid-afternoons we could see young children enjoying their after-school sewing programs. But the owner, Roz Davies, has gathered her staff together and, with a small army of off-site volunteers, been busy making gowns, scrubs and bags for the staff of The Royal Free Hospital. Nurses can put their scrubs in the bags for laundry and thus not contaminate their homes. This enterprising spirit has been repeated up and down the country by such shops as ‘Sew Much Fun’ and larger companies like Burberry. But wait a minute! This is the National Health Service. National, as in: owned and paid for by the UK government with our taxes. Would that not presume that the government would pay for and provide all the Personal Protective Equipment that the staff need? Ah well you see – that brings up an incandescent moment.

The testing for ‘essential workers’ has been abysmal failure. To find out if you are considered essential and how to get tested – you need a computer – where you can try to access a self-referral portal and fill out the 35 page form. Alternatively, try to book an appointment at one of the supposedly 50 testing sites open throughout the country. The nearest can be several miles away. And who is running them?

God Bless the Army. Newsreel footage now shows young soldiers with flapping blue plastic aprons over their army fatigues, standing, masked and gloved while waving cars forward. Then, while clutching papers and test tubes, they lean into car windows and poke swabs into open breathing mouths. No figures have yet been published as to how many of these young, partially trained, men and women have succumbed to the virus.

Throughout the week it was announced that The Prime Minister would outline his road map for going forward on Sunday evening. (Thereby cleverly missing a dissection by Andrew Marr on his Sunday Morning political broadcast.) We turned on the Television at 7 p.m. to see Boris in Blue. A navy suit, pale blue shirt and discrete tie. His hair, for those who like to note such things, was combed into a semblance of flattened style. Sitting at an old-fashioned desk with the door open behind him so we could see the elegant chairs and chandler in the room beyond. Did he give the broadcast live on Sunday? No he did not. It was prerecorded. Why was that? I still don’t know. And what did he say? Well a lot of us still don’t know that either. The three other United Kingdom Countries, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all rejected his new message of ‘Stay Alert’ and are continuing with ‘Stay Home and Save Lives’. This could be a moment to reflect that: “When Three Russians tell you that you’re drunk, you might want to lie down.”

But the general message seemed to be, “You‘ve all done a good job and now it is time to go back to work tomorrow. (Later that was corrected to Wednesday as tomorrow was Monday, a bank holiday.) If you can work from home, keep doing that. But if you do have to travel, try not to take public transport but “get on yer bike”.

And there must be a way to keep the natives happy and the country divided. (I’m sorry to sound so politically incorrect but here it is). Essential workers, and some businesses were to reopen, such as – wait for it – garden centers. How does that work? By keeping the home counties happy. They can shop for and work in their gardens and feel that Boris is taking care of them – as they will for him come election time. He must be careful as the warmth of the fire’s dampened faggots are beginning to smolder underneath him.

May 12th is Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. A day celebrated throughout the world with maybe even with a Google Doodle. This spring five Nightingale hospitals were built in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Harrogate and Bristol. Similar facilities have been set up in Cardiff, Glasgow and Belfast.

Frequent hand washing by nurses was an early directive of Nightingale’s and remains one of the most important health messages in this coronavirus pandemic. The new hospitals share many similarities to those that Florence Nightingale designed after returning to England from the Crimean war in 1856. But the main component was nurses. And the lack of nurses, as well as the situation just staying manageable, is what has kept these new pop-up hospitals almost empty. Nightingale also understood “politicians have short attention spans”. She was a quiet woman who would never have shown my emotion. I can’t but feel she might have given me a tight lipped smile of understanding.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad.
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

From the Florence Nightingale Museum

Grateful in Week Seven

Recorded and knit together by WSM
Photograph by WSM

Week seven of Shelter in Place or Lockdown in London. Whatever we call it, this means remaining vigilant and at home. There is a new sense of ‘wait a minute’ … a new dawning of how life is really changing. Workers on building projects have had enough time off and money is running out. White vans are again parked on the roadside and masked laborers trudge in and out of the buildings. With luck, money will slip into empty pockets by the day’s end.

Meanwhile not only are all retail shops shut but so are most of the services that we have come to rely on. Hair is an optional accessory: some of us have it and some of us don’t, and blessed are those with a hairstylist in the family. Here in Camden, Ossie’s and the younger hip barber shops are all closed. So too are the ladies’ salons. Stylists have all gone home. The phrase ‘Shut up Shop’ has taken on a new meaning. As middle-age recedes, giving way to our senior years, we face the decisions we have made. Some of us have gone silver and others golden. Yet most of us try to do so something. Maintenance has become an almost full-time occupation while ‘You are looking very neat’ could be accepted as a compliment in these times. No longer able to enter the high street chemist’s I turn to the internet and find there is a run on ‘Age Perfect’ from L’Oreal and that Amazon is only allowing one package out with each order. But one is enough for the moment and will take me behind the closed bathroom door for a morning. Soon it maybe time for a pony tail clip.

But others are not so fortunate. The nurses, doctors and auxiliary personal on the front lines of the medical care of the COVID-19 epidemic can give no time to such personal considerations. Showers and laundry are all they can manage, meals are often gifted from the communities they serve. Some staff have even been camped in hotels, isolating themselves away from their families for weeks on end.

As we enter May, and come into Nurses’ week, celebrated around the world for the birthday of Florence Nightingale, I think of us nurses particularly. There are stories, penned in hours of exhausted lonely frustration, by Intensive Care Nurses working on the front lines from London, New York, Europe and throughout the world. These are heart’s weepings at the incredible loss of life they see and the family sorrow they bear witness and give comfort to. It is in writing themselves to sleep they join in comradeship with each other.

When patients are admitted to hospital with a clinical or tested diagnosis of COVID-19, this may be the last time they see their families. The death rate of those admitted to Intensive Care still remains at 50%. So many relatives have no time or way to say goodbye to their dying family members. It is the nurses who try to bridge that gap, calling families, holding mobile phones, and then holding hands with their dying patients. Nurses take their place at the bedside with both physical patient management and emotional support. If the nurses are lucky and gowned into proper protection, it is only their eyes that the patient can see, their voice the patient hears, and the warmth or a gloved hand that they feel. These can be enough. It is what nurses do.
The hold that the National Health Service has on the UK psyche is deep. It was conceived and brought into being in 1948 by Labour’s health minister, Aneurin Bevan. Subsequent governments have all taken turns nipping away at the NHS funding, mostly with cutting the salaries of nurses and doctors alike. This virus could be the a moment that the people say: Enough. Pay our staff.

Every European country with a socialized medical system sings its own praises. “Italy has the best Health Care System in the world.” says my Florentine friend Idanna. In less serious times I would banter with her that ours is better. But Italy, like all of the socialized systems has been sorely let down by their own government at this time. Italy went into lock down on February 23rd. Other European countries quickly followed with their own forms of isolation. It was not until March 23rd that the UK government asked this country to Shelter in Place. Italy quickly turned to music for community comfort. People came together across balconies and plazas to sing in praise and gratitude to their medical teams. Spain, Germany, France, England, China and America even, began their rituals of standing on doorsteps, singing, clapping and banging on whatever they can find to say thank you.

At 8:00 PM every Thursday, as night gives way to spring-time dusk, people around this country, on doorsteps, outside of hospitals, fire departments, and public services come out to clap, smile and wave at each other and for a moment not feel so alone.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad. written and read for you by Muriel Murch.