I’ve been watching Channel 4’s 24 Hours in A & E for some time now, and when a new series started again recently, I was so happy to see it back on our screens. For those who have never watched it, cameras are fixed into the A&E department of a busy London hospital (this series and the last it’s been St. George’s in Tooting) and we see patients brought in after (sometimes horrific) incidents and treated by the doctors there. But the programme isn’t one that sensationalises injuries or dramatizes accidents. It’s a programme that focusses on the essence of being human. And I love it.
Firstly, the programme builds on the already huge respect I have for anyone working in the emergency services and the NHS. To see these people working long, long hours, under extreme pressure and saving lives; seeing them treat everyone with the same respect, dedication, humour, and humility is so humbling and inspiring. They have these people’s lives in their hands; they have that person’s family sitting around their bedside, standing full of fear outside the curtained cubicle for their loved one. And they do their job, their utmost to save someone’s life and give them the best quality of life possible. It’s remarkable, and no matter how many times I watch the programme, I’m always astounded by the calmness, the professionalism, the earnestness and the dedication of the doctors, consultants, nurses, and everyone else in the hospital shown in the programme.
I’m quite a squeamish person: I can’t watch the doctors put someone’s dislocated shoulder back in place; I turn away when there’s huge amounts of blood on screen; I look through my hands when they stitch someone’s wound. It isn’t the ‘drama’ of the programme that captures my attention and holds me there for an hour: it’s the people. The interviews with those who are treated in A & E or one of their family members or the staff are just so wonderful. They can be sad, funny, moving or touching. These are real people with real stories to tell, and I love hearing about their take on the world, their relationships, their struggles, their triumphs. Particularly with many of the elderly people featured on the programme. There was a gentleman shown a couple of weeks’ ago that had such an interesting life. But what struck me most was something his son said: that his father would wake up and tell him I’m so delighted to be alive. And I just thought, what a wonderful mindset to have. I want to be like that when I’m in my eighties. I need to remember this when I wake up now.
A friend of mine said the other day that the programme made her realise how amazing humans are as a species; the relationships we form are remarkable. And I completely agree. Watching the programme, I feel as if you see all of human emotions in an A & E department and seeing the relationships is part of that. The bonds we make with people can be so deep and profound, and you see these at their most strong in an A & E department, when someone is in extreme pain, danger or fear.
I come away from watching the programme frightened by the fragility of life. It reminds me, quite starkly, that it could be me. My life as I know it could change in the blink of an eye. And it encourages me, urges me, to live my life as fully as possible. To live with no regrets. I come away with a renewed and full appreciation for life and for human beings.
There are moments of lightness throughout the programme: funny exchanges between friends in the waiting room, jokes between doctors, moments captured on a camera that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. And it’s great light relief, and shows how well put together and edited the show is.
In an A & E department you’re seeing someone at their most fragile, physically and emotionally. And I’m grateful that these people allow themselves to be shown on national television. Because they remind us to tell the people we love, that we love them; they remind us to live life as fully as possible; they remind us that it could so easily be us in that hospital bed. The programme is an excellent portrait of human life; it’s my weekly dose of inspiration and thought-provoking TV.
24 Hours in A&E is on Tuesdays at 9pm, on Channel 4. Do you watch it?