There ARE good people in this world — even in a British government hospital

May 6, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For the patients and the families who walk into Harefield Hospital, Middlesex – the famous heart hospital – emotions are always running high. A combination of worry, hope, exhaustion and unspoken fears can make it totally overwhelming.

Graham Jordan knows this only too well. When he developed pneumonia 18 months after a heart transplant, each breath was agonising but the anxiety was just as paralysing.

He was admitted to Harefield, where he’d had his transplant, feeling so low he could hardly think straight; not only in pain, he was worried sick about his wife Yvonne and depressed that ill health had overwhelmed his body yet again.

‘I was feeling so ill that Yvonne had to beg me to go into hospital. I badly needed a miracle that night. I needed somebody to magically make me feel better.’

Like a fairy godmother, that person did appear – it was the hospital ward clerk, Julie Donovan.

Graham recalls: ‘When we got to the ward, this lovely lady turned to me with the warmest of smiles, and said with a twinkle: “Come on Graham, there’s a room for you here – a sea view!” She was joking, of course, because we were miles from the sea. But it made me smile for the first time in weeks.

‘She opened her arms in a gesture of welcome and her warmth just enveloped me.’

Graham was shown to his room, with Julie promising Yvonne that he’d be taken care of.

‘The next morning, the hospital chef came in with a beautiful full cooked English breakfast which he had prepared personally for me,’ Graham continues.

‘I was stunned. It was like something from a five-star hotel, not an NHS hospital. Then Julie popped her head round the door. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!” she joked.

‘I asked the chef if he cooked and delivered breakfasts for everyone, but he told me Julie had ordered mine and paid for it out of her own money. I was too poorly to eat much, but will never forget it. ‘To me it was a king’s banquet because it made me feel better than any meal ever has before.

‘I could have wept. I went from feeling I was on the scrapheap to being treated like a celebrity. From that moment, I started feeling better. Antibiotics cleared my pneumonia but it was Julie who put me on the road to recovery.’

This was the start of a remarkable 16-year friendship where Julie, 52, has cared and looked out for this gentle, childless couple in a way far beyond what’s required in any job description.

Graham, 76, a retired fencing contractor from Harefield, had a heart transplant in December 1995 after a virus damaged the muscles of his heart. He still goes to the hospital every three weeks for blood tests and monitoring – with devoted wife Yvonne by his side.

But Julie has been a constant presence, too. ‘She rings us regularly to ask how I am, she sends Christmas cards, she pops round to our house for a cup of tea.

‘When I needed a hip replacement 18 months ago, Julie stepped in. Yvonne told her I was on a waiting list but I was anxious because the only available appointment was at Hillingdon, where I’ve lost a few relatives. ‘Then, through the post, came an appointment to see a top specialist at Stanmore Hospital.

‘I told him: “This appointment just magically happened,” and he said: “Don’t you know? Julie’s behind you!” She had asked a surgeon at Harefield to speak to a friend at Stanmore.’

On the day of his operation, Julie rang Yvonne to ask how Graham was. As Graham recalls: ‘It was a nasty, stormy, night but when Yvonne said she was going to visit me that evening on her own, quick as a flash, Julie replied: “Oh no you’re not – I’m coming with you.”

‘So that evening, when Julie had finished her eight-hour shift at Harefield, Yvonne collected her and they drove 12 miles to Stanmore to see me.

‘Julie offered to wait in the car. But Yvonne, who is 73, insisted Julie came and I was thrilled to see her. Julie was the sole person there to support Yvonne that day, which meant the world to her. ‘Julie’s kindness knows no bounds.’

Indeed, there are stories of patients who have had to travel to Harefield from as far as Cornwall and Scotland, and being taken out for tea and cake by Julie once they are strong enough to leave hospital for a few hours. And of lonely relatives being invited to her house for lunch with her family.

She has even taken laundry home to wash for families stranded by a medical emergency. She will also arrange taxis for families and phone around local B&Bs if they need accommodation.

Once, she found and booked a local venue for a patient who didn’t want his wife to miss out on a 40th birthday party.

All this, needless to say, is above and beyond her latest role as co-ordinator of the echocardiogram unit (where scans are performed).

But it’s the emotional support that means the most, says Graham.

‘She greets everyone with a smile that makes them feel like the most important person in the world. I’ve seen her wrap her arms around sobbing relatives, trying to comfort them.

‘Julie reaches out from behind a hospital desk and makes you feel less alone. To Julie, you are never merely a number – you are part of her extraordinary family.’

That’s how the Donaldson family, from Bishop’s Stortford, Herts, feel about her, too – they met Julie in March 2013.

Their beloved grandfather had died at Harefield just a month earlier after a heart attack, and now his 17-year-old grandson Billy had been diagnosed with a serious (though unrelated) heart abnormality. He would need open heart surgery to replace the main valve in his heart and save his life.

Billy’s mother Tina, 53, who heads a division of Savills the estate agents, says: ‘The whole family were in a state of shock but we were trying to hide our fear from Billy.’

After Billy was wheeled down to surgery, Tina had to sit in the waiting room for eight hours with her husband John, 57, a property maintenance manager, and daughter Holly, 23.

‘On the awful day Dad died, I’d been sick and Holly had fainted in that waiting room and the trauma and the loss came flooding back.

‘Julie spotted us and came to see how we were – she went to get an update on Billy’s surgery, then sat holding our hands and talking to us. ‘She made us feel, through her quiet confidence, that everything was going to be all right.’

Two days later, when Billy was recovering, Julie came in to visit. Her own husband had had a minor procedure but although it was her weekend off, she made a point of visiting Billy – even though, as Tina points out, ‘she must have been worried about her own husband’.

‘Since then, we’ve been back to the hospital every three months and Julie always finds us and chats to Billy,’ says Tina.

For Billy, now back studying for A-levels, Julie is unique – ‘she uses comedy to make you feel better. She talks to me about cricket and sport and never, ever talks down to me like doctors at the first hospital where I was treated’.

Julie initially joined Harefield as a receptionist in March 1998 – it was soon clear she would do more than simply her official job.

‘On one of my first shifts I saw a young toddler who had been raced in for a transplant and his poor mother, a single parent, standing helplessly by his side. She looked distraught and I couldn’t get her face out of my mind,’ she says.

‘That night I collected my children’s toys from home and gave them to the mum the next day. Now, 19 years later, I still see the same mother and son regularly at check-ups. The toddler is now a handsome, happy young man of 21. ‘He still has the teddy bear I gave him on that first visit.’

She recalls another young, single mother with her teenage son who had been rushed to the hospital at night – she was suddenly miles from home with a desperately ill child and no change of clothes.

‘She asked me if there was a laundrette in Harefield, and I just looked at her poor, exhausted face and thought “I have to help”. I said: “Give me your clothes and I’ll take them home and wash them for you”.’

Julie was promoted to ward clerk in 2000, then to co-ordinator in the echocardiogram unit ten years ago. Throughout, the kindnesses have continued.

A man who had travelled from Cornwall to be with his wife, who was desperately ill in intensive care, was spending hours sitting alone with nobody to talk to. Julie asked him to Sunday lunch with her family and mother-in-law.

‘I’ll never forget my mother-in-law looking slightly stunned at this stranger at our table!’ Julie laughs. ‘But it is hard for relatives if they’ve travelled for miles with a loved one.

‘From my own personal experience, you can’t put a price tag on a friendly smile and a helping hand. I set out every day to go the extra mile for at least one person.’

Five years ago her own father was suddenly taken ill. As Julie, who lives in the town of Harefield with husband James, 57, and children Martyn, 25, and Laura, 22, explains: ‘When I arrived at the hospital I saw my mother lost and alone, pacing the corridor.

‘I realised then what a difference it would make if somebody could have given her a friendly smile or a warm cup of tea. But she was on her own and in total shock.

‘Dad was moved from intensive care to a cancer ward even though he didn’t have cancer, because there were no spare beds – he was terrified and convinced that now he did have cancer.

‘I went to see a ward administrator to ask if he could be moved, and she snapped: “You’ll have to wait your turn like everybody else.” But then I found another lady who said: “I’ll see what I can do.” The whole awful experience demonstrated the difference an attitude can make.

‘At Harefield all the staff are like one big happy family, but what happened to Dad made me even more determined than ever to help as many people as possible.’

Graham’s wife Yvonne, 73, describes Julie as someone who ‘never stops helping’. ‘Because we have never had children there’s always been just the two of us, but now with Julie we are never alone.’

When Graham had his hip replacement in 2012, Julie rang the ward to wish him luck and they handed the phone over just as he was being wheeled down to theatre for the operation.

‘He was so nervous but just hearing her voice made him smile,’ says Yvonne. ‘She has this extraordinary sixth sense and picks up if things are not right.

‘The other week she was chatting to us when she spotted a man sitting on his own. She said: “You don’t feel well, do you?” and he shook his head. She called a nurse, and went to help him lie down.

‘Her eyes scan the room for anyone in need. She never sees numbers and forms, she sees people – and she reaches out to help them. She’s one in a million.’

Original story here




Odd news from around the world

New element set to join the periodic table: Scientists confirm that the super-heavy element 117 DOES exist: “The heaviest element yet found is one step closer to joining the periodic table. That’s thanks to an international team of scientists at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany. They followed up research in 2010 by US and Russian scientists to confirm the so-called element 117, and in so doing they have taken physicists closer to the ‘holy grail’ of modern atomic physics. The first 98 elements exist naturally, but elements 99 to 118 have only been created artificially in laboratories. Heavier elements on the periodic table have been theorised but proving their existence has been a challenge. To do so, scientists often smash two existing elements together in the hope of creating new elements as a by-product. In this instance berkelium, atomic number 97, was hit with calcium ions, atomic number 20, creating element 117. Elements of this size, however, are highly unstable. This is why their discovery is difficult, as they often decay almost instantly.”

Back from the brink: Rare bison reintroduced to European countryside after near extinction because of hunting: “Back from the brink of extinction, these near-wild bison are roaming the forests of Germany for the first time for nearly 300 years. Nine of the beasts were released in a forest last year near Bad Berleburg, in North Rhine-Westphalia. And so far, they appear to be thriving. It is the result of a ground-breaking government-funded conservation project on land owned by 79-year-old Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg is leading a government-funded project on his land to reintroduce the species. He hopes to prove that active species conservation can be combined with forestry and make Germany the first country west of Poland where the animals, also known as wisent, live in the wild once again. European bison were once plentiful across Europe and Russia, though their numbers were decimated to near extinction by hunting and habitat encroachment. Most of today’s wild European bison population lives in the forest in eastern Poland.”

Big Boy coming through! Locomotive of the Union Pacific Railroad to be restored to its former glory: “In its prime, a massive steam locomotive known as Big Boy No. 4014 was a moving eruption of smoke and vapor, a 6,300-horsepower brute dragging heavy freight trains over the mountains of Wyoming and Utah. It’s been silent for half a century, pushed aside by more efficient diesels, but now it’s coming back to life. The Union Pacific Railroad is embarking on a yearslong restoration project that will put No. 4014 back to work pulling special excursion trains. The American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, N.Y., built 25 of the monsters to Union Pacific’s specifications between 1941 and 1944, and they became legendary. They were the largest steam locomotives ever to work the rugged terrain of the American West, and by most standards the largest anywhere in the world. Big Boys are 132 feet long, including the tender, which carried coal and water. They weigh 1.2 million pounds with a full load of fuel. They are essentially two engines under one boiler, with two sets of eight drive wheels, each set powered by two enormous cylinders nearly 2 feet across.”

A hermit who likes people?: “A Swiss council is looking for someone ‘more outgoing’ to become its official hermit – after the last one left because she didn’t like the attention she was getting from visitors to her cave. The successful applicant for the position at the cavern at the Verena Gorge, to the north of the city of Solothurn in Switzerland, will need to ‘get joy out of meeting people’, according to an advert posted by the local council. They must also have a desire to tend a small garden, to ‘dispense wisdom’ to anyone that might pass by, and be willing to give courses in meditation three times a week. The hermit will receive a small salary from the local council, and to be amenable to the wedding and baptism groups which gather at the small chapel near the cave. They will also need to be fit, as to get to the cave you have to follow a tree shrouded stream that winds through the Verena Gorge. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper reports that previous hermits had been ‘overwhelmed by the number of hikers and visitors coming by their home’.”

There is such a thing as a happy farmer after all (when they are not begging for government assistance): “Farmers enjoyed inflation-busting pay rises of more than 13 per cent last year, as most workers saw wages outstripped by rising living costs. While IT workers, hoteliers and miners saw pay fall in 2013, life was good down on the farm. The dramatic increase in earnings from agriculture might go some way to explaining why farmers report higher levels of job satisfaction than higher-paid teachers, estate agents and architects. New figures show that total income from farming hit £5.464billion last year, up 13 per cent on 2012. It means overall earnings from producing food for the nation has doubled since 2000, fuelled by increased demand at home and abroad. Inflation has been higher than average pay rises for the last four years, leaving families worse off in real terms. The dramatic pay rise for agriculture suggests the nation’s farmers survived winter floods and the hot summer to rake in the cash. A rise in global demand for British food and drink is providing growth opportunities that many of our businesses are taking up, increasing our exports by 50 per cent over the last ten years.’

And don’t forget to catch up with all the Strange Justice before you go.


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