My phone rang yesterday morning. It was the hospital.

“Dont worry! It’s all fine” the concerned nurse reassured me. “Melanie is awake and we’ve used a word board and although its very difficult for her she’s pointed to specific words. She’s ‘asked’ for you and William to visit!”

Melanie’s mum and dad are hugging each other. Melanie had suffered a Cardiac Arrest on the street a few days earlier and colleagues, passers by, Firefighters and Paramedics fought desperately to keep her alive, delivering CPR and multiple defibrillator shocks to try to sustain life. It had been fraught and challenging for all of them.

Melanie’s sister comes in to the hospital with William and me. The wee lad was excited.

William sprints in to ICU © John MacPherson
William sprints in to ICU © John MacPherson


Melanie is understandably confused but comprehends what is said. The nurse takes me aside and warns me that she is very emotional, and it’s a concern for them, as it is very draining. Everything is happening in slow motion, Melanie acts as if her skin has changed into lead and each movement is an effort. She sees William and her face lights up. He’s a star, climbs on the bed and makes a fuss and then decides that mummy would like to see a game on the iPad so shows her that, but then gets a wee bit sidetracked. The reality of her situation is gradually dawning on Melanie and she is desperately emotional, still trying to understand whats transpired and the effect its had on her. The tracheostomy makes it impossible to speak but she moves her lips to try anyway. Its all too taxing so I leave with William so that he can go to play with his pals, and Melanie’s sister stays.

In the world of a 5 year old, a lift is a magical thing. It’s the second best thing about visiting mummy. “Can I press the buttons daddy..please! PLEASE! Not down the stairs again! In the lift pleeease!”

We use the lift © John MacPherson
We use the lift © John MacPherson

Outside having inspected the smokers’ corner and remarked on the mess they’ve left with cigarette butts everywhere William dances off down the pavement, content in the way that only a small child can be. His world has shifted slightly but the pieces are all still apparently intact. And the hospital has a lift, and sells ice lollies. And he gets to see his mum.

The hospital dance © John MacPherson
The hospital dance © John MacPherson

I returned to the hospital in the evening to say goodnight to Melanie. The nurses are professional, efficient, considerate, concerned for family as well as patients. But they are also human, have emotions and are affected by what they see, and have to deal with.  As I scrub the nurse talks to me about the latest development.

“She’s fine, calm, bit of indigestion but nothing serious” her tone professional, direct, but warm.

“It’s common around this time of the month” I offer, smiling. Adding “It’s one of the reasons I’m really really really glad I’m not a woman!” and laughed.

The nurse’s face cracked into a broad smile “Shaving, shaving! You have no idea how glad I am not to be a bloke and have to shave!”

I looked earnestly at her, then stared down at her legs, clad in the regulation blue trousers, then back at her somewhat puzzled face “I’m definitely NOT wanting to see your legs then, you must have some spectacular fur going on under those trousers! It must be as luxuriant as the arm of my fleece jacket” and I rubbed my hand up my sleeve in a cat-stroking gesture.

Her face broke into the broadest of grins, and she spluttered out a laugh she’d not expected to have to use, almost choking, and alarming the other nurses in this otherwise peaceful ward.

I went to Melanie’s bed, She was tearful, then smiling. But tired. I made a fuss, she smiled again. Then her eyes closed. The nurse appeared, with a colleague. She spoke loudly to me so Melanie could hear:

“I’ve got to show you, something, have to reveal it all to you.” Melanie’s eyes opened and the nurse lifted her leg up level with Melanie’s bed so that she could see and with a flourish pulled up her trouser leg to reveal a mass of hair, huge wodges of it tumbling out over her sock! “What do you think of THAT then!”

She had found an old wig, probably used for covering shaved heads, and got her colleague to do some arcane medical procedure to stick it onto her leg!

Hair © John MacPherson
Hair © John MacPherson

Melanie laughed in silence, the puff of her ventilator the only sound. Her face lit up into a giant grin, one that happened in such slow motion we got to enjoy it for a long time. Then she slowly closed her eyes and drifted into a slumber.

A trauma ward is traumatic but not just for the patients, a wee bit of lightness and laughter goes a long way to lift everyone, and healing is helped by all sorts of things. Whatever transpires in the difficult weeks ahead of us it helps me to know that humour will play a huge part in it. Because I like to laugh, and so does Melanie.

Thank you NHS. Thank you.


(*NHS – National Health Service)



  • Jacques

    it’s the first time I comment, after all that time following your blog. I fear it’s a bit like ships crossing at night in the middle of nowhere, but I wanted to share that a good friend of mine went through Melanie’s ordeal at about the same age. It took him some time to gather the strength and the courage to get out in the busy streets again. Several years later, it’s just like if nothing had happened… Just to keep up that after the foul weather there is always the sun shining… Just a foghorn call in the mist of the web !


    • Jacques – thank you for your message of support.Things are imporviign daily, but it will be a long voyage to safe shores. Regards John

  • Paul Armitage


    I have just heard about Melanie’s condition. My thoughts are with you all, and here’s wishing Melanie a speedy and full recovery. When you can, please pass on our love and best wishes.

    It’s a wonderful blog you are keeping. Good on you.

    Paul and Freya x

    • Thanks! We have progress – off ventilator, talking, long-term memory seems generally fine, short-term a bit sketchy, and some ‘jerky’ movements as consequence of brain damage, but so far all positive. Nurses amazed and delighted! No diagnosis so still great concern over cause. Regards passed on!

  • Justin Leighton

    moving in the right direction

    • We have progress Mr L – off ventilator, talking, long-term memory seems generally fine, short-term a bit sketchy, and some ‘jerky’ movements as consequence of brain damage, but so far all positive. Nurses amazed and delighted! No diagnosis so still great concern over cause.

  • Great news!

    I only wish we (everyone) had an NHS to thank…

  • Genevieve

    Hi John,
    I check your blog every day just to see how Melanie is doing. Progress sounds very positive. Still shocked by the news – Melanie is so fit and healthy! Sounds like you and William are OK but if you need anything get in touch. Pleas spass my love to Melanie, Genevieve XX

    • Appreciate that Genevieve. I’m taking her phone in tomorrow so she can start to contact people – it will be good therapy for her so long as she doesn’t overdo it.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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