Part of the Invisible Diaries series
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Week 1/Day 1
Here we are — I have arrived at the end of my Invisible Diaries stint for the Dramaturgs’ Network. I’d like to thank you for your attention, and to my editors Sarah and Katalin for their encouragement, suggestions and efficiency.
For the end — and in the spirit of renewal symbolised by the festivities we are celebrating at this time of the year — I’d like to reflect briefly on some events this lockdown Easter has brought about.
On Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from St. Thomas’ hospital in London after a week of serious illness caused by the coronavirus. Watching the images of the hospital in the news over the last week has brought about my own memories of giving birth twice in this same building. Once in December 2013 and once in January 2016. Both were caesarean section births. In the first instance, I shared a room with four other women and received amazing one-to-one care from an army of midwives, nurses, doctors and support staff of various kinds. Whenever someone tries to praise the NHS staff, I’m struck that there really are no words to express this deep-felt appreciation, gratitude and awe until/unless those you are talking to have experienced it themselves and have a personal body memory of what this means.
The first time I was in hospital was after twenty years of living in the UK. I was kept in for nearly a week until everyone was sure that my baby and I were safe to go home. Three meals a day were brought to me at my bedside and I have a memory of a young nurse from Indonesia sitting with me in the small hours, patiently teaching me how to express milk for my baby. My husband could visit and stay with us during the days only. Just two years later, giving birth for the second time, once again by C-section, I was kept in for only 48 hours. I was given equally good care, but it felt severely truncated, the number of staff reduced, mealtimes at your bedside no longer a thing. By this time, my husband had been allowed to stay the night on an armchair by my side, but, as we gradually found out, mostly because he could be there as fallback support for anything I might need under the conditions of a noticeably reduced workforce. Twenty four hours after giving birth, I was still in too much pain to get out of bed when asked by an administrator to attend a newly-set-up check out procedure briefing; but my husband was conveniently roped in to attend on my behalf (after bringing me my breakfast from the food station).
What I am trying to say is this: my only two experiences of the NHS in the mid-2010s make up a story of immense appreciation, but also a story of radically diminishing resources and political neglect.
I cannot imagine what the medical staff are going through in British hospitals at the moment. It frightens me to think about it! Yesterday, on my local Facebook Covid19 Mutual Support Group, someone posted the medical staff in our local hospital would really appreciate sanitary products, as they don’t get a chance to buy them themselves and are not provided with them at the hospital.
Born into and accustomed to the German healthcare system, my husband commented this morning: ‘This situation has got to become a conversation opener. We must no longer allow the NHS to rely on charity.’ (He noted in the modest way I most admire about him.) I paraphrase: This might be a foreign perspective, but it seems time has come that this society must question what charity is for and what its public funding must be for. And we must be prepared to ask if we are paying enough taxes to get the healthcare we need.
Leaving the hospital, in his public address, Boris Johnson — like most of us who have had the experience of the NHS — was moved to list the names of those medical workers to whom he owed his recovery. He then concluded: ‘The NHS is powered by love.’
This, however, is not good enough. Especially coming from the Prime Minister. We must not fall for a mere sentimentalisation of this issue. The NHS might be powered by the extreme altruism and humanity of its staff, by the professional conscience of these people often made up of immigrants with temporary immigration permits or students who are even paying fees to be doing what they are doing. But they do not owe their love to anyone other than their loved ones.
It is not enough for the NHS to be powered by love. It must be powered by appropriate financial resources.
Thank you, stay well and take care. Peace and love to you all.
Image courtesy of Duška Radosavljević.
Duška Radosavljević is a writer, dramaturg and academic appointed as Reader at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She has worked as a dramaturg in the UK for twenty years and has been a member of the Dramaturgs’ Network from its beginning, joining the Executive Committee in 2009. Duška writes regularly for the Stage Newspaper, Exeunt and the Theatre Times and is the author of the award-winning book Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the Twenty-First Century (2013). She currently holds a Leadership Fellowship funded by the AHRC investigating dramaturgies of speech and sound in partnership with Battersea Arts Centre, Digital Theatre Plus and Victoria and Albert Museum, leading to a new book, a conference and a podcast.