The NHS is celebrating its 75th birthday today and I know if my Mother had been here she would have been waving the biggest of flags.
Born in 1948 just like the NHS, Joyce Cook, my Mother spent more than 30 years working as a nurse and midwife. She died aged just 51 – but one thing we could be sure of after her death was she loved her job and the NHS.
It seemed from the word go she would be linked with the NHS; her birthday is May 14 – usually when Nurses’ Day falls and the day of her death, July 5, is the date the NHS came into being.
From a young age she wanted to be a nurse. She often spoke to me about how she saw it as a vocation and something she felt called to do.
She started her training at Leeds General Infirmary but fell pregnant with my older brother half way through.
Student nurses in the 1960’s were not allowed to get pregnant and she was told in no uncertain terms she would have to leave. Determined not to give up her career she stood before a nursing committee and argued her case; she was a married woman with support and should be allowed continue with her training. She won and returned six weeks after giving birth.
Fully trained she moved to Bradford Royal Infirmary working her way up to becoming a night sister in A&E. Something she did for 20 years while my two brothers and I were growing up.
I have clear memories of her leaving for work in the evenings. She always looked fabulously glamorous to me, white uniform, pristine hat, blue and silver belt and her fob watch attached to her top pocket; leaving in a cloud of Estee Lauder perfume.
She would return the following morning with gruesome tales at the breakfast table of sewing up bikers’ legs and putting back together victims of car accidents which as children we found fascinating.
There were tough times. She was on duty in when the IRA bombed a bus full of soldiers on the M62 in the 1970s; it was a harrowing night she had told my Dad the following day.
I’m sure there were many stories she kept to herself; not everyone I guess could be put back together.
I can remember one summer’s day passing a crash while we were on our way back from the seaside. She ordered my Dad to pull over and got out, returning half an hour later covered in blood. She had looked after the victim until the ambulance arrived.
One day while out walking she came across a man in a car who had attempted suicide by feeding a pipe from his exhaust. Sadly her attempts to resuscitate him failed.
As my brothers and I grew up she sought a new challenge and re-trained as a midwife. Initially it was tough taking orders from people much younger than her but she came to love the job.
She worked in some of the most deprived areas of Bradford, learning Urdu to help communicate with her Asian ladies. I often remember her arriving home during Eid, arms laden with food from grateful families she had visited.
Again there were horror stores. The piercing sound of a new born baby crying because it was already addicted to heroin, she told me on a number of occasions, was one of the worst sounds in the world.
She often bought underwear and sanitary pads for the desperate girls who couldn’t afford them and had no one to help.
When she was on-call it was usual for her to go out to some of the roughest areas of Bradford in the middle of the night; it was not for the faint-hearted.
I can be under no doubt my mother loved the NHS and loved caring for those in need. A favour returned when she fell ill suddenly in 1999 and died three months later from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A bench now sits in the maternity unit of Bradford Royal Infirmary in her memory.
What she left for her three children was an example of someone who had loved her job, worked hard and found her vocation. Something I think we have all gone on to do.
Ironically none of us wanted to be either a nurse or doctor but it is no coincidence that after working as a journalist I found my true home in the NHS – being able to tell the story of these amazing people who make the NHS what it is. Happy birthday to the NHS.
NHS England Communications Manager
Children and Young People’s Transformation Team