Easter Weekend 2020

Easter Weekend in London brings news and time for reflection.

Some days swirl by in a non-specific haze, leading to a confusion of thought, and a seeming inability to get anything done, so that the by day’s end one wonders what did actually happen. Like older relatives and parents who cut out articles from the newspapers and mailed them to us, we now swap internet links and stories. “I thought you might be interested in …” and we often are.

Thomas arrived for my birthday. He had been hinted at, noted, ordered from our local book shop and was wrapped up to serve beside a pot of coffee for breakfast.

Thomas at Breakfast

Hilary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light” brings Thomas Cromwell’s life to an end. For three days and nights I managed to resist him, continuing to read an evening chapter from “Jock of the Bushveld” an old favorite book of my mother’s.

But before even a week was over, I had picked up the hefty tome of 880 pages. I said (to myself) “I’ll just take a peek”, as if “I’ll just go for a drink with him. It’s nothing. I can get up and leave whenever I want.” But now Jock is laid aside, and Thomas has my heart and mind. I love him, more than a little bit, and am infinitely in awe of and grateful to Hilary Mantel. I am not alone. Others I know read him in this gifted time of solitude. We will go with him to his end and close the book with sadness.

When Susan Sontag published ‘The Volcano Lover’ in 1992, she went on her book tour. I was fascinated with the history and had lots of questions prepared for speaking with her at KPFA, Pacifica. But as the conversation relaxed and drew to a close, I asked about living alone in New York City. “Are you ever lonely?” “How could I be,” she responded. “I have two thousand years of history in my library.”

Here in London we both have small libraries crammed full of books that we cherish. We are both re-readers, I returning to history while he explores science. Though I’m a one-at-a-time gal there are at least seven books piled behind “The Mirror and the Light”.

My father would have been in his 70’s when I was first old enough to become conscious of his reading habit. And for him, too, this age was a time of re-reading books that he welcomed back into his life as long lost friends.

Saturday morning began in the new quiet, but by noon a helicopter began to circle overhead. There is no Prince traveling from one palace to another, and the air ambulance is hardly needed now that the London streets are almost empty of traffic. This is the police, boys with their toys, circling Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park looking for those, oh no, sunbathers and loiterers. Later, when we take our walk a police patrol car is cruising The Broad Walk. They are not walking to give a face to their presence, nor even on horseback when I might get lucky with a bag full of droppings for the compost pile.

The evening news program brings the government representatives out to the podiums with their daily bulletins. Mathew Hancock, Minister for Health, speaks his coverup nonsense “Maybe the NHS are hoarding gowns and masks which is why there is a shortage.” Priti Patel, the Home Secretary says, as one does when knowing there is a need for an apology but not ready to give ground, “I’m sorry the situation makes you feel that way.” As of this writing 8 national health doctors – all of them UK immigrants – have died. The number of nurses to have died is unknown. Today at over 11,000 deaths, England is set to overtake Italy in the number of Covid-19 deaths.

On Easter Sunday morning, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from St. Thomas’s Hospital and driven to Chequers, the country seat of the current Prime Minister. Whatever one feels about this Prime Minister we are grateful that one more life has been saved. And so is he, giving public thanks to the nurses who cared for him; particularly Ward Sister Jenny McGee, from New Zealand and Staff Nurse Luis Pitarma from Portugal – again – immigrants.

Easter Sunday is when some look for a miracle. Not necessarily the one of a life returned, but possibly of the recognition in this moment of gratitude by the Prime Minister, for the nurses, doctors and all staff working in the health service. Doctors may cure but it is the nurses and hospital staff that keep us alive.

Old into New – again

A strange part of all of this is trying to accept that my job is to be out of the way, not on the ‘front line’ – not helping. But what to do? what is next? The table napkins are next, the first one already torn and sewn to make a face mask. I take up a needle and mother’s cotton threads while listening to history unfold itself again.

I bow my head over the work as a gentlewoman would in the Tudor time of King Henry and his Lord Privy Seal, Sir Thomas Cromwell.

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

1967

Sometimes when I get mad or sad beyond the normal ups and downs of day to day living, I recover by writing poetry which – naturally – makes much of the work unpublishable.

But the political arena of the last weeks in the USA has led me to more sorrow and anger than I have felt for a long time. It is deeply profound with a collective grief that has become personal. Private and public in the same way the wars, famine, floods, fires, shootings and political shenanigans are to any of us thinking and feeling in the world today. Maybe it is that I not only feel these assaults on women as a woman but also as a nurse. Assuredly an old one, but still active in heart and mind and even on occasion in the physical world.

Heartbeat bills in the USA as of May 2019

The governmental legislation occurring in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, and beyond, leaning hard to the political far right, and the gamesmanship of these politicians, is chilling and terrifying, and reminiscent of a time when …

In 1967 I was working the afternoon 3-11 p.m. shifts in a major Hollywood hospital in Los Angeles County, California. One busy afternoon, shortly after we had come on duty, after the day nurses had left, we were making rounds and checking on our medical patients and the post-surgical patients returning from the recovery room when a phone call came to the nurses’ station. We were to take an emergency admission who would be scheduled for surgery later that evening. Hardly had I put the phone down when a gurney, carrying a young woman, came out of the lift and was hurriedly pushed onto our floor. The orderlies wheeled the gurney into a double room close to the nurses’ station and tipped the patient onto the empty bed. A clipboard with doctor’s order lay over her body.

“Start IV of Dextrose and Saline and insert a nasogastric tube STAT.” was scrawled on it, with a signature. I hardly looked to whom her admitting doctor was, just focused on the fact that she came from the Emergency Unit. Once unstrapped from the gurney and on the bed, she (I want to call her Helen) began thrashing, screaming, and writhing with abdominal pain, while gagging, trying to release whatever was inside her. Doris, my aide, hurried to get the nasogastric set-up and we called for the IV nurse to come to the floor, Stat.

The other team, of one nurse and an aide, were caught up caring for the remaining patients on the floor and there was no-one else around. Helen was beyond hearing me as I tried to explain what I had to do, for and with, her. She was obviously terrified and aside from her not able to hear me she continued to thrash in the bed. We could not hold her steady. So I slapped her. Not hard but I did slap her and I remember it to my shame to this day. But, still terrified, Helen focused on me for the first time, and our eyes remained locked together from then on.

“I need your help. You have to stay with me and let me do this for you.” Having a nasogastric tube inserted is always unpleasant and there are risks attached to the procedure, making sure the tube enters the esophagus and not the trachea and goes to the stomach and not the lungs. As Doris stood by her (and my) side she stroked Helen’s arm giving her calm comfort. I managed to insert her tube correctly and immediately a torrent of brown fluid came up. The IV nurse arrived and started the intravenous fluids into Helen’s veins.

Soon Dr. L., a gynecologist, arrived. He was quick and brisk but also quiet and reassuring as he spoke. Helen was prepped and soon taken to surgery. Later that evening she returned to us. Dr. L. was tight lipped when he too came back to the floor to write up his notes.

We didn’t talk much at the nurses’ station. I was young and naive enough to only begin to understand what had happened to Helen. Who was with her? She had come to us alone but someone, a friend or family member, had got her to Dr. L. and he had managed to save her life if not her uterus. It was clear this was not the first time he had taken such care of a women. His tired face showed that he feared that it would not be the last. Helen recovered, walking the hall carrying her IV pole, catheter and shame. She discarded the IV and the catheter over the next few days, but maybe she took the shame with her when she was finally discharged.

That was 1967, within so many of our life times. Those of us fortunate enough to have lived within relative control of our bodies need to remember to be grateful. Women around the world today still carry unwelcome and dangerous pregnancies. The thought that so many young people within once enlightened societies could again face such a situation is beyond chilling and beyond poetry.

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
couldn’t put Humpty together again.

And it went on. Now, after almost three weeks of tumbling down I’m still so sad and angry, watching as the English politicians made such a cock-up of their dear referendum. Yes I’m going to say that. Though in a global view this is small blip. America is churning and bleeding to death and Africans are dying in the Sahara desert, the Libyan jails and finally the Mediterranean ocean as they struggle to escape a certain death for a less certain life. But still, I’m so sad and mad. I don’t know when I have struggled so to write. If this was a yellow pad, which it was earlier, I would be back at the stationary shop buying another one. But the emotions that have been going around and around in my (and a lot of other people’s ) head, as the television and newspapers reports changed, history being eloquently rewritten every day and Great Britain as it was is no more.

That morning, the one when we all woke up to the Brexit decision was sobering and most of the country, even those who voted out, to show ‘them’ a lesson were stunned and grieving as the realization of what could come to pass began to sink in.

The eye watches London

The eye watches London

So I’ve read, and read and read, mostly coming back to The Guardian editorials which are the ones that make the most sense – to me. I’m suspicious even of my beloved Telegraph, seeing hidden agendas in each opinion column and page. But there are good articles. Lighthearted and accurate from Buzz-feed and somber and intellectual in The Guardian. Maybe there will be a breather today as the politicians wait for Her Majesty to return to London. The Queen is not going to break off other engagements just because these boys have all behaved so shockingly badly.

The weekend after the vote we took a train to Shropshire to visit with a beloved old friend who lives deep in sheep country. That evening he took us and another couple who were staying in Wales, (with more sheep), for dinner. The long evening light was still with us as we climbed out of the taxi (no drinking and driving with this crowd, who can still drink as if they were twenty). Our driver, a young lad, was built like a Sumo wrestler. Overflowing from the van’s upright driving seat he yet held a gentle hand on the wheel and had a sure knowledge of the small country lanes and the farmers heading towards us.

Deah heading the roses

Deah heading the roses

Summer roses

Summer roses

The following day it became clear that ‘a spot of lunch’ was actually a full blown ‘Luncheon for 30 plus’ and I was going to be vastly under-dressed and under-blinged. While the most amazing meal was being prepared in the garage, I was set to deadheading the roses, which with all the rain and very little sun, were glorious.

At noon the guests began to arrive. It was time to change from jeans to a not quite dressy enough skirt and join the friends who had come to share this day. As we sat down to lunch I took the opportunity to really find out a little more what people were thinking, and how they voted. I became impolite, asking those questions one never discussed in public (politics and taxes). Here were the land owners of Shropshire. The charming gentleman on my left was happy to tell me why he had voted Brexit, “We don’t like being told what to do,” And by “we” he did mean all of us, the Sumo wrestler driver, the milk-man, the chicken farmer as well as the Lords of the Manor (most of Shropshire’s around the table) were of one mind.

“We don’t like to be told by Angela Merkel. We don’t like to be told by George Osborne. And we don’t like to be told by Your Barack Obama.” And so out of sheer bloody mindedness they, to a man and woman, voted out.

“To show those politicians what we think.” The rifts that have erupted within families are startling and have taken this grey haired and somewhat still with it generation by surprise.

By the time the cigars and snuff were coming around I was being sleepily interrogated by Algie, (Algernon Heber-Percy Esq.) Shropshire’s very own lord-lieutenant. As the Queen’s representative in the county he could not venture his opinion. But by the languid body language he displayed as he placed his pinch of snuff surely on the back of his hand, he showed that he too was with the aforementioned gentleman on my left, his shepherds and arable farmers.

Today the Queen will return from her morning of duties and have time for a light lunch before meeting with David Cameron (let’s hope he doesn’t whistle a happy tune on his way out of the palace). Then maybe she will have time for a soothing cup of tea before she summons Theresa May to formally ask her,

“Can you command a majority in the House of Commons?” May will say ‘Yes Ma’am I can.”  May might add a curtsey and there you have it. While those two politicians are trotting in and out of the palace moving vans will have been in and out of three houses and on Thursday morning Great Britain will wake up to a new Prime-minister.

Grey skies over Westminster

Grey skies over Westminster

Meanwhile Humpty Dumpty will join his nursery rhyme pals, other eggs who have fallen, and lie broken on the ground, below the wall and under the benches in the House of Commons. They will pretend to care. Some will be swept up and discarded. Others might return to their seats, now knowing how precarious their hold and seat is on the wall. Who knows, one or two may even reach out for a drink with Tony Blair, also bruised if not bowed. The Chilcot Report has been released and the film ‘We are Many‘ is being shown in theaters again and again.