Saturday, 2 June 2012

Sandra's smile

What a pleasant surprise! Fr T and I were just out for our fairly regular Saturday pub lunch. We were at the local Ty Glas, where we had two different styles of chicken. Fr T said that the lady behind me was smiling at us every so often... uhuh, I thought...
When I eventually looked round I realised that the lady in question was someone I knew 30 years ago when I was curate at St Francis of Assisi, and one of my responsibilities was to be chaplain at Ely Hospital. This was home to 650+ residents with learning disabilities, and very often physical ones too. Sitting behind me was Sandra, one of the residents that I knew best. Always smiling and warm on my ward visits, Sandra was a regular at the Sunday afternoon service, which I took on a rota with the Anglican and Baptist chaplains.
When I asked her if she remembered me, she buried her face in shyness. Her carer nodded to me that this gesture meant that she did. A few minutes later, after we had finished our meal, I asked her again, and she gave me the most wonderful smile and managed a warm "Yes!" She remembered our services and one or two other residents I mentioned.
Ely Hospital had been the subject of a ground-breaking enquiry in the late 60s, after a visitor made allegations of bad treatment via the "News of the World". It revealed cases of men and women locked up there for over 50 years in some cases, and led to a revolution in the care of people like Sandra, not only in Ely but throughout the British healthcare system.  
How wonderful to be instantly transported back 30 years and to once again enjoy the transcendent smile of Sandra, now free as a bird in the community, enjoying her pub lunch... next to me.
Picture shows the social area where I used to have a cuppa with Sandra and others after the service. 

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