On Wednesday this week the exercise class I go to at the hospital gym was foreshortened for the unprecendented distribution of cake.
But firstly, to set the scene, a wee bit of background information.
As a result of the accident, which I have written about in other posts, it was discovered that I have a couple of small nodules in my right lung, and follow up on those discovered a miniscule amount of emphysema. The wholly wonderful and holistic consultant at our local hospital suggested she refer me for a course of respiratory rehabilitation; which I accepted on the basis that I should do anything and everything the NHS offered to get me better. So in June I started on the twice a week for six weeks course. Each session involved an hour of structured exercise and then an hour of varied educational sessions on how to understand and cope with COPD - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder.
COPD? Actually this was not really me! Maybe it is not needless to say, but nonetheless I did feel a complete fraud and humbled in the company of the rest of my group - all of whom seemed much more debilitated, and several having to lug their portable oxygen cylinders with them as they exercised. But illness, age or infirmity do not necessarily debilitate the spirit or the mind. And twelve sessions, of a couple of hours each, is enough time to develop a sense of camaradarie amongst the group; and for each of us to create, private little character studies of each other, or more openly, new and positive relationships.
So where does the cake come in? Well - each day when the break between the exercise session and the following 'talk' occurred there were increasing comments and barracking to the effect that now was the time for 'tea and cake'. And the physios, respiratory nurses, occupational therapists, and whoever else where involved, all smiled sweetly at these hints and provocations and repeated the various reasons why, whilst there used to be 'tea and cake', there no longer was.
And nothing more was said.
Then I was invited to the - Pulmonary Rehabilitation Maintenance sessions - weekly, hour-long exercise sessions in our local hospital physiotherapy gym, which are supervised by a respiratory physio and a respiratory nurse and open to anyone who has previously attended one of the COPD rehab courses. Again I reasoned that I should make an effort to comply with everything on offer - especially if being offered for free! So off I have been trotting on a relatively regular weekly basis.
Yes, yes, I am getting to the 'tea and cake"!
Two or three weeks ago they announced that the time of the sessions was to change and that on the last session in September, before the time change, there would be a half session of exercise followed by - 'der ub a dum' ... 'tea and cake!!!'
Well! If my estimation of attendance numbers on my first maintenance session was low, last Wednesday was off the scale. The tiny gym was teeming. And there was a sense of expectancy in the air - with covert glances towards the lumpy and bumpy shapes under the cloth covering the table behind the physios desk.
Warm up exercises were performed with a smile of relief of foreshortened exercise - and the promise of cake! The brief 30 minutes of exercise was performed with subtle smiles and increased communication between the more retiring, and not quite so subtle efforts at restrained excitment from the 'boys' in the class.
The 'boys' of ages varying, very widely between 65 - 90, remind me of the boys at school - yes, a very long time ago! But still, I would hardly be surprised to hear them farting to solicit a response from the teacher. In warm up exercises, when asked to stretch their arms across their chests, they consistently flap the extended arm in the direction of the prim lady next to them in the vain hopes of some kind of reaction. They are in constant, but I have to admit friendly, competition with their clique on scores and achievements - except for their combined rivalry against any particular fall guy on any particular week. One such was doing an impressive number of press-ups on a gym mat when 'the boys' pointed out that he could give up now as the lady he was trying to impress had already left.
But back to the party!
Cooling down exercises were performed in a group of rising expectation. And within seconds of the group dispersing, the table was transported to the centre of the room, the tea towels were off and the invitation to partake uttered.
When it came to the crunch, (!), the rush to that table was so much more measured than ever I expected and, if anything, it was the more shy and retiring ladies who were there much quicker than 'the boys'. And the number of shy and retiring ladies who picked two or even three species of cake on to their paper plate at a time was astonishing. Or maybe I was just being particularly spoilsport or pecksniff. Even more surprising was that 'the boys', chief barrackers of 'the need for cake', were not bothered at all - all talk and no stomach!
But, seriously, the overriding point of this whole post is the absolute dedication and generous spirit of all the staff involved in that tea and cake party.
There were cakes of every flavour, flapjacks of all stickinesses, scones filled with jam and cream, homemade biscuits and muffins all being let loose from fabulous personalised cake tins and fancy lidded tupperwares - and all baked at home by the physios and respiratory nurses; many of them working mothers with full time jobs. I think it a safe bet that the ingredients for our party treats were not subsidized by NHS petty cash. And then, not only had they cooked, but they circulated - with smiles, jokes and supportive chat - in the knowledge that many of their patients, whether with the 'boy's bravado' or not - are isolated and lonely.
Those girls are dedicated. I applaud their generosity and warm hearted enthusiasm. They represent all that is still good about the NHS.