Smile, for Pam Moore

From the life of Pam Moore

By Suzanne Wilson

A pretty young girl of eighteen stepped out of the front door of her family home in Bedford, clutching a small suitcase, and jumped into a taxi. Pam was escaping, ready to answer her calling to become a nurse. The taxi was only taking her half a mile up the road, and it would still take her family three days to find her, having moved into the local nurses home, but she felt free. Free from the pressure that was put on her by her family to enter into an arranged marriage, free from the cultural confusion that came from being from an Indian family in 1970’s England. She was living in a world full of dark prejudices, reflected on both sides of the community. This strong woman had had enough; she was going to make her own decisions from now on. She was going to date the handsome white boy that she would later marry, less than a year after meeting him; become a nurse; and care for people – help them to see the beauty in life. Nothing would stop her. She now tells her nieces and nephews who are entering into mixed-race marriages, “You should thank your auntie for the ability to do this! She set the trend for this, she was a pioneer; you just did not do that in the seventies!”

Born in India, and moved to the UK aged nine, she had always found it difficult to make the transition from her English identity at school to her Indian identity at home, where she tried to remain true to the traditional values that her family held. One thing was for certain, she did not want to marry someone she had no feelings for, and she didn’t want to end up running a corner shop. Marrying a white guy at the time was certainly not the done thing, but this was a woman who didn’t care about convention; she did what she knew was right. Even if, on meeting her mother-in-law, she heard, “…oh, well, she’s… pretty! A lot darker than I thought she’d be but… pretty! She’s got very white teeth!”

It would be her work in the burns unit in Chelmsford that would bring back thoughts of her own cultural upbringing. Previously having only seen Chelmsford as a white, middle class area, the introduction of the burns unit brought in a far more multicultural demographic. It was the attempted honour killings that hit her the hardest. It isn’t something that anyone could imagine would still be happening in today’s world. There was a woman who, according to her family, had just ‘spontaneously combusted’, but unaware that our nursing hero could understand how they told her to “Just die,” in Punjabi. She clocked straight away what was going on and alerted the appropriate people. Unfortunately, the woman died, and she never found out if action was taken against the offending family. However, a part of her knew that it could have just have easily been her teenage self that had ‘spontaneously combusted’. She knows that, in some sense, the people who do these terrible things feel that they are doing the right thing; these actions are coming from a place of supposed love. They were restoring honour to the family and the victim’s memory.  She did have to seek trauma therapy for her work on burns unit, which just wasn’t provided back then, but she won in her fight to achieve this and she got it, to help her cope with the effects of the job. Trauma counselling was not available to nurses at the time, so, in a way, she set another trend.

A more bittersweet experience from working in the burns unit came from a young man suffering with ninety percent burns covering his body, following a motorbike accident. He was an intelligent chap, but had been silly enough to neglect wearing his leathers that day. After three months of caring for him and his family, his body went into multi organ failure. She was devastated but knew that the kindest thing would be to let him go in peace. After informing the mother, one last request was made. During his care, she, as his nurse had been the only one who could make him smile, and so she was asked by the mother to do so one last time. She still thinks about the young man and his family fondly. She is still in touch with two of her burns patients who sought her out. She was a stand-in mother to them when the birth mothers were too exhausted, and one of the those mothers reminded her just the other day of how Pam shooed her away because she was so ill from tiredness and worry. They laugh about it now. Back then there were enough nurses and support and funding for the service to be a personal, caring service. However, if the government continues to decimate the NHS, the general population will be worse off than they are already.

Working as a nurse for the NHS opened Pam’s eyes to a lot. There is a very active bullying culture within the NHS, which is ironic for people in a profession that is supposed to be caring for others. One of the things that really bothered her was that in working in an NHS-run hospital is that everything is scheduled and time based, and staff are not allowed to go the extra mile, which is something she has always prided herself in being able to do. This was particularly evident in a case where she was caring for a three month old baby that was dying. The parents couldn’t face seeing their child in that state and she had five other babies to care for at the time. All she wanted was to hold that baby, and show it some affection, but she wasn’t allowed. The three month-old died that night. She handed in her notice the next day. She doesn’t want to be associated with bad practice, and at this point in her life, from years of experience and growth, she knows that if she doesn’t like what is going on, she can change it.

Joining the team of the Richard House Children’s Hospice in early 2016, the contrasts between the NHS and Richard House became very clear, and having only been with the organisation for a short while, she has already made quite an impression. The families at the hospice become her families too; she uses her outgoing and bubbly personality to lift the spirits of both the kids in her care, and their parents. Just a little bit of help can make all the difference, even if it’s just the parents getting a few minutes to themselves to have a cup of tea and relax. The relationship that is built with the families is something special and not easy to let go of. And to her, the best part of the job is being able to make the kids smile, and it is the intimacy and caring environment of Richard House that allows this. There is something about the hospice that has her totally magnetised. Richard House has a sense of family not only with the patients but with the staff as well. Once, when the weather was particularly bad and their cook got stuck in the Dartford Tunnel, pizza was ordered in for everyone and they had a quiz day, which was really helped the staff to get to know one another.

“Live for today.” That’s her motto. Pam doesn’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow and that’s okay. (Well, she knows she has her gym class, because it has to be booked in advance.) If the weather is good, everyone should head out somewhere; if not, that’s all right, she can find something else to do. All she wants is to be a good person and help others, something which she would prove over and over again.

She doesn’t see the people in her care as just patients or guests, but as an extension of her family, and she feels proud in knowing that her family extends all over the country.

She always remembers her patients, but has taught herself not to let the feelings and connections she has with her patients consume her. There have been a few occasions where the connection to a particular patient has been so strong that she has been able to feel when something has gone wrong, or even sense that they have passed away. This is when she realised that she needed to disconnect from that aspect. She has learnt how to care for herself, as she is just as important and loved as any of her patients. Travel is one of her passions and each old church she visits, a candle is lit for the people she has cared for, past and present. It is strange how something as small as a candle can create such a bright glow that touches every corner of the room. Much like how every smile of hers touches the patients she cares for.

Forty years on and that glow has never left her. She carries with her a smile which brings hope to everyone she meets.

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