I first read about Dick Whittington and his cat, in my textbook for English prose, at the St. Joseph's High School in suburban Bombay. Decades later I live in North West London where my local hospital is named after him.
The symbol for Whittington Hospital is a cat. After having been saved not once but twice from possible death within its walls, I have begun to think of it as the proverbial cat o'nine lives.
My first lease of life was a few years ago when I suffered a bad miscarriage and was instantly rushed into the A&E and then into surgery at the hospital. It was only later when my GP went pale on seeing the reports that I realised that a few minutes late and I may well have slipped across to the dark side.
The second was just earlier this week, when a suspected lump in my breast had my GP referring me to the hospital. Convinced I had breast cancer, and seeing the next few years unroll in a haze of chemo and possible surgery, I showed up white knuckled.
Queuing for my scan, I trembled - composing my eulogy in my head - rueing the hours I had wasted away in front of the television when I should have been working on my next book.
If only... if only... I prayed to all my gods, even carrying my prayer beads into the waiting room-- a first for me - where I proceeded to chant as a way of focussing on the moment and not dwelling on the probable outcome.
Within an hour I was seen by a consultant; who within seconds of the scan told me not to worry, it was just an enlarged lymph node. I sagged in relief, mentally check-listing the deals I had made with the various powers that be upstairs.
What struck me was the efficiency, the confidence of prognosis of the consultant, the cleanliness and the modernity of the equipment. Everything worked and the staff - the doctors and nurses - stretched as many of them were behind piles of paperwork and files did their best to put me and the many frightened women there that day at ease.
Yet it is the latest hospital in the capital to face cutbacks. In 2010 its A&E almost shut down but for timely action by local residents. Today NHS managers want to sell off part of the Whittington site, cutting almost 570 jobs to leave the hospital with reduced maternity services, ward closures and fewer beds for the elderly.
Why cut funding for something which works? At what cost is the government saving costs? For local residents such as me, the Whittington is more than a lifeline. It's a beacon of everything that is actually right in this country. It is crucial for the hospital to stay open and unaffected if it is to continue to provide the kind of life saving services it has delivered so far.
You can join the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition here
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