What’s your earliest memory? Most of mine are, I suppose, understandably foggy.
I remember tagging along with my friend Glyn to the launderette with our mums and sitting on top of the noisy machines as they cleaned tonnes of washing from the Tideswell and Shelley households. I would have been three or four at the time.
I also have a vague memory of sitting on the back of my beloved grandad’s stationary Lambretta scooter on our drive.
Again, I would have been three or four. It’s hard to tell from the photographs.
However, my first distinct memory is from February 23, 1977.
I was four years and 11 months old and it was undoubtedly the best day of my short life.
My mum’s friend Linda was looking after me and she walked me up to the ‘top shops’, as we called them, near my home in Sneyd Green to buy a teddy bear. Blue, of course.
My baby brother had arrived, weighing in at a perfectly respectable seven pounds two ounces. Not bad considering he was three weeks early.
It was a huge deal for all of us. My mum had suffered two miscarriages after having me and the hospital staff were understandably twitchy as she approached full term.
Then suddenly a routine blood test threw up some problems and mum was kept in hospital and induced the next day.
My little brother duly arrived at 2.30 in the afternoon and I remember ‘auntie’ Linda telling me that I had a baby brother, but I couldn’t see him yet because he was poorly.
What she didn’t tell me was that Matthew was jaundiced and had been placed in an incubator at the North Staffs hospital.
There he remained for almost a week, with mum watching over him while the rest of the family all worried themselves silly.
I was, of course, blissfully unaware but content in the knowledge that the blue teddy had been safely delivered. Meanwhile I was preparing for the arrival of someone with whom I could play soldiers.
I can’t tell you how excited I was.
Mum and Matthew eventually came home, the screaming started, the pooey nappies began to flow and the rest, as they say, is history.
Matthew’s fine. He’s now 32, a self-employed window-fitter and built like the proverbial brick privvy – but with slightly less hair than when he arrived in this world.
However, had it not been for the care and treatment both he and my mum received from ante-natal staff and the everyday heroes in the special care baby unit, there’s every chance our Matthew wouldn’t be here today.
The neo-natal unit, as it is now known, celebrated its 40th birthday on Saturday with a staff reunion – just weeks after the department moved to a new home on the top floor of the new £40 million, state-of-the-art maternity unit at Hartshill.
I wish I could have been there.
For most of us, our jobs aren’t a matter of life and death.
But for frontline NHS staff like those who have worked in the various incarnations of the neo-natal unit, life and death is their bottom line.
Plenty of mud is slung in the direction of the health services nationally and locally because of everything from waiting lists and administrative cock-ups to hospital-borne infections.
But the one thing that is rarely questioned is the dedication and skill of the staff. And rightly so.
I interviewed some of the neo-natal staff in the early Nineties and came away with nothing but admiration for them.
So, although it may be somewhat overdue, here’s a big thank you from the little lad who bought the blue teddy.
Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday