26 August 2014

The Health of a Nation

We really are so lucky in this country to have the National Health Service. We complain about it, but seriously have nothing to moan about if you consider what other parts of the world have to put up with. In an article in the press this weekend some one had got into a lather about the meal presented to them in hospital. I admit is was not the most appetising of meals, but food should not be the criteria for judging the NHS. It should be about the level of medical care. You could, I suppose, argue that medical care includes nutrition when we are in-patients, but honestly I'd sooner have a bad meal and the right medicine, than the other way round. In fact, I think we should pay for our food whilst in hospital and then we would have the right to complain and maybe expect something more palatable.

The stories Kay has been feeding me from Tanzania have made my toes curl and changed my view on what we should expect (or not) from our poor old NHS.  The hospital she worked at is in a major town, providing care for 1.3 million people. Although partially government-subsidised, apparently under-5s go free in Tanzania, but everyone else has to pay - for everything - consultations/medicines/anaesthesia. Consequently people are loathe to seek help or cannot afford what is prescribed if they do. Women in labour will forgo the luxury of a local anaesthetic for an episiotomy (ouch), as they can't afford it. A young girl having a miscarriage in A&E (with the cord hanging out) had to wait over two hours for the clerk to come back from her lunch, so she could pay for her treatment, before they could start to treat her. Kay said there wasn't even a speculum in the entire hospital to examine her. 

Another story which made me sit up was one of an elderly man brought in with the advanced stages of TB. He was put on an oxygen mask and urinated over the bed while he was there. The nurses apparently wiped the bed down with existing water in a bucket that had been used for something else and then washed out the oxygen mask with a bar of soap before handing it to the next patient to get on the bed - a 16-year-old girl with asthma.

There were many more stories, some of them very upsetting, concerning small neo-natal babies and the lack of facilities for them. It does put our gripes about the NHS into context and make them seem petty. It is not just the under-developed world who have bad basic healthcare systems. Look at medical care in the US.  You have to have lots of money or take out vast loans to pay for what we consider as granted here.  I understand you have to pay in Australia too, including for the call-out of an ambulance, regardless of whether they take you to hospital or not.  

Kay and her fellow British students working out there decided to put a fundraising appeal on the internet a few weeks ago and managed to collect just over £500. On Thursday she was taken  to a medical wholesale supplier and bought amongst many other things the following items, some of which can be seen in this photo.....


1 blood glucose machine
200 blood glucose test strips
2 adult Blood Pressure machines
1 paediatric Blood Pressure machine

4 bottles of disinfectant hand gel
3 bottles of disinfectant spray
10L of disinfectant fluid for the sterilisation of equipment
4 digital thermometers
24 suture packs
6 pairs of scissors
500 latex gloves
50 pairs of sterile gloves
10 boxes of small dressings
5 boxes of large dressings
100 malaria testing kits
2 enormous bags of needles
1 pen torch
10 paediatric nasal oxygen masks
2 standard paediatric oxygen masks
1 set of weighing scales
500 urine dipsticks
120 umbilical cord clamps
4 bottles of ultrasound jelly
5 tubes of KY jelly
1 large roll of guaze swabs
5 pairs of episiotomy scissors
100 hydralazine (BP) tabets
12 bottles of hand wash
20m of wipe-clean polyethene material to cover surfaces



She presented it to the hospital on Friday - her last working day - and they were very pleased to say the least. It may not be much to us, but to them it can make such a difference. It really does make a moan about a gristly bit of meat on our plate or a curled up sandwich in hospital seem trivial. The NHS has only got a certain amount of money. Food or medicine? I know what I'd choose.

19 August 2014

Happy Again

I worry when Kay's out of physical reach, so I cannot scoop her up and comfort her in trouble. When she was mugged a couple of weeks ago in Tanzania, I could hear it in her skyped voice and written online comments that she was rattled and a bit nervous of going out. I have been counting the days to her return - sadly still another month away from now. But two little words and the following photo on a networking site have calmed my fears a little. She's happy again.

zebra crossing


11 August 2014

Who do I think I am?

I've always been a big fan of the programme Who do you think you are? I find it fascinating to delve back into the pasts of celebrities and learn that their forebears were criminals or rich landowners or destitute and living in a workhouse.  I have always been interested in my own ancestors, although I have lacked time to go into my ancestry in any sort of systematised way. I have mentioned that I had an English grandfather and a German one, and from the little I know, their lives are worth documenting, but I have never had the time to go into it in more depth.

Other relations in my English family have done some of the foot-slogging work for me, so I have quite a bit of information about them, but I would love to go back further when I  have the time to research it.  My mother was one of three children, but the other two died in their infancy, so I have no cousins or aunts on that side. As an only child and a widow, I am aware that in time I shall have very few relations, if any,  to count on and at times feel a little saddened by that.

On my German side of the family, I have very paltry information, particularly as my father's only brother deliberately broke off from the family and did not stay in touch. We later learned that he had died and nobody had thought to tell us. He did not have any children though and so I grew up with not a single cousin to call my own on either side of the family. I also imagined researching the German side would be difficult, both because I do not know the system for tracing relatives in Germany, but also because somewhere way back in the past, there were some Jewish connections, so I imagined many had perished in the holocaust, not to mention a lot of records had gone missing or been burnt.

Some years ago I joined Genes Reunited and started to put a bare skeleton of a family tree on there. Occasionally I would get approached by someone asking me if my Joe Bloggs or John Smith was the same as theirs and, when the dates or place of birth or siblings were not in common, that was the end of that. I had in fact in the intervening years forgotten all about Genes Reunited.

On Thursday I received an email  from a man called Ed via Genes Reunited.  He was trying to trace a family member who had my German ancestor's name in common. It's a very rare name, even by German standards, so the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. He sent me his tree and I sent him mine. Turns out we are second cousins twice removed or whatever the terminology. We share a great-grandfather and his wife. He even sent me photos of their gravestones in Berlin. Well, blow me down with a feather!

He is the direct descendant of my grandmother's brother. My German grandmother was one of eight children - three girls, who all stayed in touch, and five boys, whom we lost track of, presumed dead in the holocaust. However, the line of two of the boys did survive. One (Louis) eventually died in a Polish ghetto but his children survived and moved to the North of England; the other (Richard) was shot in Berlin but his son was taken to a concentration camp in Holland, liberated in 1945 and emigrated to the USA.  Ed was Richard's grandson who contacted me from the USA on Thursday!  He was delighted to have found me, as I was able to fill him in on the fate/history of the three girls, one being my grandmother, whom they knew very little about. He meanwhile has filled me in on the fate/history of the 5 boys, especially the two whose families survived. I  am suddenly awash with relatives I didn't know existed.

Changing the subject,  Kay contacted me over the weekend to say she was mugged in Tanzania on Friday. She and nine of her new friends had been out for the afternoon sunbathing at a hotel pool and were returning along a quiet road in a group about a minute away from their hostel, when a motorbike with two men roared up to her, the passenger grabbed her bag strap which was across her body, cut it off and they rode off into the distance with it. Fortunately not a lot of money was in it, no bank cards, but a brand new Kindle I had given her for her birthday a few weeks ago, a cracked crappy camera and her university-issue i-phone with all medical apps and contacts on it. She was shaken, but, as I said to her, at least alive and well, given the fate of those two poor boys in Borneo. She went to the police station to report it and apparently they don't work at weekends. I'm guessing the robbers knew that, as the theft took place at 18:45 on Friday. They could be anywhere from Alaska to New Zealand by the time the cop shop opens again on Monday. That's Africa for you.

07 August 2014

There but for the grace of God

I was shocked to the core to learn that two young medical students had been stabbed to death in Kuching (Borneo) yesterday. Kay was there last year (see here) with her older friends who were doing the very same thing in the very same Sarawak hospital as these boys and Kay herself is now in Tanzania doing the same. I imagine two sets of parents much like myself who now have the awful prospect of bringing their dead children home for burial. It makes me shudder.

Of course the lads were up and about in the wee small hours of the morning and it would seem drink was involved. As anyone with teenagers or twenty-somethings know, there is always a lot of alcohol involved in their socialising. Maybe the noise levels got stoked up a bit in the process. If you are in a Muslim country, as they were, then maybe the locals were offended by this. Who knows what really happened until the details emerge. Whatever the case, two young hopeful doctors did not deserve to die. It goes without saying I shall not breathe freely until Kay returns safely.

04 August 2014

One hundred years ago

I have written about this before, but today, the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, seems more pertinent to mention it again. Both my grandfathers were in the First World War but on opposite sides.



My mother's father William was on the side of the English. Born in Bermondsey  as the oldest of ten, he enlisted at the age of 19 at the very start of the war and fought at the battles of Ypres, the Somme and Paschendale - the latter where he was badly wounded. He was in the Royal Artillery and had a horse called Smiler that used to pull the gun carriages. The horse was also badly injured and had to be put down. My grandfather luckily was brought back to England with injuries to his leg, head and eye. He lost his eye and from then on had a glass one. He was plagued by bad headaches for the rest of his life too, whenever the schrapnel moved around.

My paternal grandfather Erisch was on the side of the Germans. Born in Berlin, he also enlisted early on in the war. He fought for a time in France, where he was shot in the leg and then, after he had recuperated, he was sent to the Russian front which was notoriously freezing and conditions were unbearable. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery. He went on after the war to marry a girl with Jewish connections (my grandmother) and in 1939 they were forced to flee for their lives and settle here in England, some number of months after their two teenage sons (one of them my father) had already come here with the Kindertransport.


 My German grandfather in exact centre front row.
When my mother and father got together in the Second World War, announced their engagement and introduced both sets of parents to one another, my two grandfathers amicably shook hands and joked "I bet you were the b*****r that shot my leg/eye".  It was good that they could be so forgiving, given the extent of their injuries. It does however highlight the futility of war - human beings but for the grace of God on oppposite sides ordered to kill one another. We haven't learned the lesson - it still goes on all over the world......Ukraine/Russia/Gaza/Israel/Afghanistan. The futile killing of fellow human beings.