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Tendered loving care

My roses have been good this year, but I always have trouble from ugly black spot. The leaves fall, yellow and despondent.

One of my sisters passed on advice from an old friend. Consider why cottage gardens traditionally had beautiful roses – because the woman of the house threw her slops and washing water over them.

Interesting! So I tried it and my roses seemed to approve and improve. But I have a lot of roses so it was a bit slow.

Another sister told me she doesn’t believe in mollycoddling roses by spraying them. Instead she feeds them well, so they can fight off problems like black spot.

So I tried that too. I fed my roses at the end of August, just as they were heading into a major second flush of blooms. Within a week, the roses were pushing out glossy green leaves to match the wave of new buds. In December, the bushes are still healthier and prettier than other years.

It set me thinking about response to illness. Yes, good food matters – that’s why I meet 90-year-olds still active on the land. They’re well fed since childhood.

And some people swear by magic yoghurts, as seen on TV, or expensive bottles from the health food shop. Maybe it helps them or is it placebo? But then again, the placebo effect is strong and it’s useful.

But I’ve moved on to thinking about what I’ll call “loving care”. I mean stuff like bedside manner, the value of touch, nursing people back to health. I’ve often felt that a happy ward and a cheerful hospital help people to recover better and faster.

So to my own hospital experience: Each time someone was kind or treated me as an individual, it was as if I felt it physically. Surprising and comforting.

And by the way, it matters a lot during outpatient visits, which are more stressful than being an inpatient. A GP friend says surviving an outpatient department has a lot in common with airports.

There’s the worry about how to get there – in my case, taxi/bus/taxi – then waiting for different departments, each time afraid you’ll be overlooked. In addition, there’s limited time to ask important questions and always the potential for bad news.

All hospital staff can make it easier, but nurses are special, as they combine technical knowledge with, yes, loving care.

Then there are belief systems.

After my operation a neighbour stopped to chat. He was on a mission. First he talked about a friend who had major eye surgery, like mine, and went every day to a holy well by the lake, to bathe his eye. Now he’s perfect.

Next, he reminded me of the unpleasant and persisting complications he suffered after a complex heart procedure. He then told me all about a little church in Clonfert and how he spent hours queuing with other troubled people, waiting to be touched and blessed by the healer there. He’s fully well now.

I know what he was doing. He’s fully signed up to modern technical medicine, with great praise for his doctors. But he was keen to point out what I could, and indeed should do, to help myself. Mulling it over after, I concluded that I have my own belief system, and yes, I think it helps.

My faith starts with my medical eye specialist who chose a retinal surgeon to look at my cataract. She also told me to do whatever he said.

I have non-medical friends who want to choose everything, control everything. For me, not choosing was helpful. I didn’t have to doubt or second-guess myself.

Similarly, some people associate shiny modern buildings with first-class care. Personally, I prefer the soothing Victorian building of the Eye and Ear Hospital, with its bust of William Wilde – Oscar’s dad.

Of course I have an advantage. I know that the staff and the technical care in the health service are as good as anywhere.

So when my surgeon said I needed immediate surgery, I believed him, even though I’d never heard of a macular hole before. And later, when I was fearful because my eye still can’t read, I believed him again when he said it was all “knitting satisfactorily”.

He said this while happily (lovingly?) contemplating my scans, which (apparently) show the hole decreasing in size. To me, the scans look just like green solar flares. But I believe!

I thought about these random ideas while cutting some roses for the house. Without technical care my eye won’t recover. But, there’s more to recovery than technical care. So whatever helps my eye recover better and faster is good.

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