I've never wept at an NHS meeting before. Cried tears of rage and/or frustration, but not great big girlie mascara-running sobs. But I did.
Actually it wasn't really a meeting, more a conference, a two-day accelerated learning programme in fact.There were 70 of us at Cap Gemini's centre in Woking, all there to envision an NHS accountable to patients and the public. Wonderful fun, creativity bouncing about all over the place, music, cuddly toys, ice cream and everything. But that's not why I wept.
As an illustration of how well a patient can be treated, Gill Hicks shared her experience with us. Gill survived the 7/7 tube bomb, but lost her legs.
I'd seen this very pretty, smiling lady in the room during the morning. She's the sort of person you look at and immediately want to be her friend, wellbeing oozes from her pores. I'd noticed she walked with a stick but didn't realise she was our speaker.
From her first words, the tears were pricking my eyes. And I'd forgotten my tissues, dammit. She didn't need to tell us what happened. everyone knew about the terrorist bombs in the tubes and on the bus that July day. But the way she told her story about the bravery and courage of those who rescued her, refused to give up on her, snatching her back from death and giving her life and hope. At one point, a black tag was being prepared for her, but a paramedic refused to let her go. When she was wheeled into hospital the consultant told her she would walk out. Three-and-a-half months later she did just that.
She said she didn't feel hatred, she was so glad to be alive even the most mudane things thrilled her – like the orderly emptying the bins! Though for such a positive, lively, lovely person, such a horror only made her more positive, more lively, more lovely. It had, she said, turned her volume knob – a similar victim who may have been bitter and angry before the bombs would be moreso afterwards. We are who we are and who we want to be.
All she could talk about were acts of love and courage. Not hers, though heaven knows she had done them in spades. I mean, what does it take for someone who was 5'2" when they lost their legs to ask for a few more inches and walk out of the hospital a stunning 5'7"? Respect!
I didn't look round. I didn't need to. The sniffing, rustling of tissues and shuffling in chairs said it all. We were moved. Deeply moved.
I saw her as she was leaving and thanked her, asking if she hadn't found it a little daunting (and maybe depressing) to be surrounded by so many managers. She she gave me a 1000watt smile, touched my arm and said Oh no, she'd enjoyed it and was grateful to be asked.
I think I was entitled to another little weep.
Gill now devotes her life to peace. Here's her website. Maybe you'll weep too