Fiona Baskett is a retired GP in Wiltshire. She is on Twitter: @FMB_fiona
Rainbows in windows, co-ordinated applause, the clatter of saucepans struck in unison. It has taken a pandemic to bring people out on to the streets to show appreciation for the National Health Service. Yet the dedication and humility of its nurses, porters, doctors, switchboard operators, medical students and secretaries, exposed on our twenty-four-hour newsreels, has never wavered for the past seventy-two years of the NHS’s existence.
This is a theme of Sam Guglani’s novella Histories which takes the reader behind the scenes of hospital life over the course of one week. This account not only highlights the compassion of our healthcare workers, it uncovers their frailties.
Sam Guglani’s novella Histories not only highlights the compassion of our healthcare workers, it uncovers their frailties.
We observe the carefully chosen words of the consultant physician caring for a colleague’s wife; the porter gathering his own histories as he moves patients round corridors; the insecurity of the junior doctor attempting procedures while navigating ward hierarchy. The scenarios are familiar but there is a lyrical beauty in Guglani’s prose, whether depicting a dying patient, ‘his breathing more laboured and erratic, the concertina of his ribs darkening with each inspiration’, or a medical student ‘moving around and between patients, like a bee, flower to flower, in the faint light and hum of the ward.’
He describes the experienced physician as having learnt ‘the lie of confidence and certainty, knowledge kept until it’s ripe to fall’ when contemplating when to break bad news and another who flaunts ‘his perfectly choreographed resilience.’ We learn that the medical secretary can detect tone in dictated letters; that a former hairdresser, now patient, values touch just as much as a spoken word; that a medical student finds it hard to be objective when her dying father’s voice echoes in her head. Each character stayed with me long after I had finished the book.
Histories is a reminder that we all have our vulnerabilities. That is what make us human.
Histories is a slim volume but one to be savoured, as each word is weighted carefully and placed like a precious ceramic tile in an intricate mosaic. It is a careful reminder that whether giving or receiving care we all have our vulnerabilities. That is what make us human.
Reviewed book: Sam Guglani, Histories. Pub: Riverrun 2017.