Every single time I'm in hospital, there will be an old lady in my bay that I fall in love with.
Way back in 1995, it was Gladys. Gladys would flirt with my Dad, every time he walked onto the ward greeting him with a loud "Allo Faaarver", offering to share her humbugs with him.
The NHS was in a very dark place indeed in 1995. After 16 years of Conservative erosion, staffing levels had fallen to the most dangerously low levels I've ever experienced and nurses were even striking in a last ditch attempt to win the battle for excellent health care, free at the point of use.
One day, just one student nurse was left on a ward of 22 patients. Without 2 trained staff nurses no controlled drugs could be given, patients screamed with pain, an old man fell by his bed and another patient had to help her lift him back up. The good nurses had long since suffered stress related breakdowns or given up their jobs, and only those who didn't really care how much their patients suffered remained.
A very few dedicated heroes, doctors and nurses worked straight shifts just to keep the NHS on life support. It wasn't unusual to meet doctors on 72 hour marathon shifts or nurses staying hours in unpaid overtime to bridge the gaps.
There was no-one to hold Gladys' drink for her or feed her meals. Dad and Dave took shifts just to make sure she got any fluids or nutrition at all.
The thing that unites these remarkable women is forbearance. Not once do they ever complain. Not once do they ask for anything, not once do they mention the often excruciating pain they suffer through. I've become a world expert at spotting it. Good nurses recognise that the strength of this generation - the generation who fought for our freedom - means they must always be sure they are getting what they need. You'll never hear them fighting for themselves, never. They apologise every time anyone does something for them, convinced they aren't worthy of the basic care and dignity my generation insist upon. I imagine they have never asked for anything for themselves, instead, dedicating their lives to helping others - their families, friends and lovers.
How easy it is to look through them. To forget that they loved and cared, just as we do. How easy to forget that they may have climbed mountains or swum oceans in those glorious days of vitality and youth. How easy to forget they may have been brain surgeons or explorers or olympians. How easy to patronise them now, as the broken and spent shells of their bodies belie the gifts of their past.
Very occasionally, I hear a member of staff speak to them with contempt. Perhaps tell them off as though they were little children or patronise them as though their brains had always been 95 years old. I've seen them dismiss worried life partners or leave them too long in their own mess - after all, they'll never complain will they?
We have a duty to this generation to understand their stoicism. To remember their great bravery, a bravery that thanks to them, most of us have never had to show. We have a duty to make utterly sure that their final days are lived in dignity and as much comfort as we can possibly ensure. We have to remember they were born in a time before antibiotics or heart transplants. They accept pain and misery we could never contemplate.
But our gift to them must be to provide for their needs even when they are so unlikely to express them. To realise that when they say it "hurts a bit" they are close to their limit. To realise that they would never dream of asking someone to feed or wash or dress them - the shame!!
I'm proud to say that almost every member of staff in this hospital do so admirably and with touching compassion and care.
But back in 95, we got a phone call from Gladys' family. She had been readmitted and this time, there was no "faaarver", no busy-body patient in the bed opposite. She had died of dehydration for want of someone to hold her cup and gently ease the straw between her lips.
Was it cruelty? Neglect? I don't believe so. It was understaffing. And we are on that same slippery slope again.
This stay it is Ivy* Ivy is dying in great pain. Sid* comes in every morning without fail at 8am, wearing his best smart blazer and his pork-pie hat, in order that she may nag him as she has every morning for the last 70 years. He combs her hair and holds her glass of milk and brushes her cheek tenderly as he says goodbye. As he turns to walk away, only I see the tear he tries to hide.
We can stop this Britain. We can demand the NHS we cherish. or we can let it descend into a living horror story. Again. It's up to us.
If only for the generation that gave us our freedom, please, don't let it slip away.