Dear July, twenty four to twenty seven: here and up and down and there

Tuesday, July 28

Dear July,

I don't particularly like hospitals. They're tight-packed spaces with low ceilings and beeping machines. They have square yellow lights that squint down from grey tiles; they give you a headache after a while, if you didn’t have one before you arrived. Hospitals are lined with alarming signs. (Germs! Germs! Now go wash your hands!) They have windowless corridors. They smell of things you can’t place. Hospitals are places you don’t know what to say. Do you chat about ordinary things (last night’s dinner, the TV last week)? Or keep conversations limited to clinical matters (symptoms, and fluids, and test results, and bruises)? How can you be sure what you’re saying is helpful? How can you make sure your words aren't lost?

We visited my Grandpa in hospital this weekend and when the hour was up, after we’d said goodbye – squeezing his hand, waving to him through the window as we left the ward – we went down to the café on the ground floor to get a cup of tea before driving home through the rain. Looking round at the other café-goers – all sipping paper cups or sharing crisps and ham sandwiches out of paper triangles – it struck me how we were all there for the same reason. To visit. We were there on a ‘have to be’ rather than ‘want to be’ basis.

‘I mean – you wouldn’t just come in here because the coffee’s good,’ I said to my parents, fiddling with the Twix wrapper on the table. ‘No one really wants to be here. Everyone here’s only in this space because they need to be...’

Somewhere in the midst of the troubled air, though, hospitals hold potential for great kindnesses to happen. They’re where people feel at their worst, and where others have to step up and become the best version of themselves to be a support. Growing up with a mother and sister who are both nurses, there has always been much talk in our house around ideas like ‘caring for the whole person’, around 'being with’, and 'intentional presence’, and good communication skills, and how listening is so much more than just 'hearing'.

I wish I’d seen more of that while we were at the hospital this weekend. What I saw was not unkindness. No one was unkind. It wasn’t quite that. Just – there was a definite absence. Of communication. Of warmth. Opportunities were missed. 

I found myself wanting to say: listen, I know it’s busy and late at night and the guy two beds along just swore at you when all you were trying to do was check his blood pressure. I know you’re completely shattered because this is your fourth nightshift in a row and you didn’t manage to get any sleep before you came to work because the flashing clock by your bed kept reminding you how little time you had left till the alarm went off and the kids were crying and then the neighbour decided it would be a good idea to strim the hedge outside your bedroom window and you couldn’t block it out. I get that. I’m not judging. But it would it be too difficult to say hello to the 'patient' you’ve just come up to with your clipboard? Would it take more than a minute just to tell him your name and what you’re doing before you start poking and prodding and plugging him into that machine on the wall? Could you maybe take two seconds to look him in the eye and actually see him? Because he’s not having a very good day either. He doesn’t want to be here either, lying in the middle of this high-up hospital bed feeling very exposed and frightened, though he might not say that out loud. He likes to joke. But if you looked at him, you’d see it. Could you at least, please, could you at least say your name?

I didn’t say that, obviously. But I came away thinking this: the small things we do are not insignificant. Saying hello. Touching hands. They’re not insignificant. So we mustn’t forget to do them. And this:

Lord God, let me never become so busy or distracted, or so rooted in routine, or harassed, that I forget to acknowledge the ‘personhood’ of another. That I make them feel less than human. Let me always be attentive. Being present is a choice. Help me to choose it. Help me to remember it. And to do no harm when I forget.

‘It is important that awake people be awake,’ writes Stafford in the poem I posted a few weeks ago. ‘The darkness around us is deep.’


Post-script: I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental. Thank-goodness for hospitals, and thank goodness for the staff that work there, and the people – like my sister and my mum – who intentionally practice good care. I know they’re in the majority. They work hard. And it’s a thankless job at times. I don't know - the staff at other points in the day may have been very attentive. But when you see someone you care about being talked over, and looked past – it can be quite unsettling. (And makes you quite determined to never get sick yourself.) 

(Today’s poem: ‘Little Summer Poem Touching on the Subject of Faith’ by Mary Oliver. Today’s title: from Norman MacCaig’s 'Visiting Hour'

Pictures by: the quite lovely Julianna Swaney. You should look her up.)


  1. Oh wow I'm speechless. This was such an incredible piece of writing with such a beautiful message. You articulate your thoughts so well and it had me hooked right till the end. I'm gonna go scroll through the rest of your posts now. Never stop writing, you have a great talent. Hope you're having the most wonderful day!

    -Nabeela x

    1. Goodness, what a lovely message to receive. Thank you so much.



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