Short Stories by Dr Sara Sienna – Happy 70th


It’s minus five degrees yet the amount of snow on the ground is nothing compared to the amount of regret in my heart. Sure, these little black ankle boots look great with my outfit, but Lord knows that was not my best idea.

During my 20 minute walk (more of a steeple chase) to work this morning, I have managed to collect enough snow in my boots to reverse global warming. There is ice between my toes and I can almost hear my Nigerian ancestors crying out from the grave that I am neither genetically nor emotionally equipped to ever have ice between my toes.

I finally make it into work at 7:30am. The biggest and busiest hospital in Cardiff is eerily quiet.  I receive a message from my senior – a picture of his car completely hidden beneath a wall of snow. He isn’t going to make it into work any time soon.

“Sara! You made it in!” The lead nurse’s eyes light up as I arrive on the ward. He is so happy to see me.

I ask about the damage, how understaffed has the heavy snowfall left us?

We’re a few nurses down, and the ward upstairs are missing a doctor. But it’s fine. We’ll pull together. We make a plan – I’ll see the sick patients on this ward then head upstairs and cover that ward too. But in the end I find that I don’t have to, as the doctor upstairs has walked through ten miles of snow in order to be there for his patients.

Another head nurse arrives. She isn’t scheduled to work today but has come in anyway. She knew we would be understaffed so will work today then sleep here overnight before working tomorrow too . She is here for us.

During the ward round, one of my patients grabs my hand. She is nervous ahead of her hip surgery today. I kneel by her bedside, hold her hand in mine and reassure her that she is in a safe place. We are here for her. All the nurses and staff are here for her. Even if we had to sleep in the staff room for the next three weeks straight – we’d be here for her. And today of all days I find myself struggling to express just how much I would do, how much snow I’d carry between my toes, just to be here for her.

My work whatsapp group is flooded with forwarded messages from locals offering lifts to hospital and emergency staff. Simple every day people with 4×4 cars that can handle the snow. Not one of them asks for a charge and they refuse to accept it when we offer. They are here for us.

That night I hear a story on the news about a surgeon who walked twenty miles to operate on a patient. Stories upon stories of people going above and beyond the call of duty just to be there.

As I sit there, letting it all wash over me, I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that I am part of something special.

Something unlike anything that the world has ever seen.

It knows neither colour nor wealth. It won’t hold your status or previous life mistakes against you. It welcomes the homeless and the rich, the blind and the addict with open arms. And it gives a gift that no amount of money could ever repay.

I am part of the NHS.

A community of nurses, doctors, physio’s, radiographers, secretaries, cooks, cleaners, pharmacists, students, porters and every day tax payers who have all chosen to be there for each other.

That night, I pray that we will never take for granted what an honour it is to serve and be served by our NHS. I pray that we will always hold the powers that be accountable. I pray that we will never be scared into believing that  this incredible, live saving community is no longer possible.

Because this spirit of grace and selfless giving? This is what it means to be British.

This is our NHS.

Happy 70th birthday, NHS.

May you live on for many more.

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