My first encounter with the Churchill Hospital was just after ‘O’ Levels when, with a couple of friends, I spent a glorious 3 or 4 weeks helping to uncover the remains of a Roman pottery works in a corner of the grounds. This was back in the 70s when the improbably tall flag post outside the main entrance still flew the Stars and Stripes as a reminder of the site’s origin as an American military hospital during the Second World War.
As I made my way into the Churchill on the 19th of December, I noticed that the flag pole was still there but that Old Glory had been replaced by a grubby and distinctly tattered NHS flag. I can only assume that the staff gather around it on a daily basis for an inspirational rendering of the NHS anthem before tackling the early shift. Mind you, they probably need inspiring to work in these depressing surroundings which look less like a hospital and more like an industrial estate on the outskirts of Preston.
To begin with, a young doctor (whose age I estimated at around 12), closely observed by the two study nurses, went through the details of the study, took a medical history, prodded me in the ribs and checked that I was breathing. Once he’d left, the nurses took over and the needles came out. I’m not kidding – they had more needles than a knitting convention. There were the little needles (lancets) that I had to use to practice checking my blood sugar; there were the big needles that they used for taking blood samples and then there was the needle that I had to use to practice injecting myself with a placebo, which turned out to be an unexpectedly painless process.
After two hours, I left armed with a diary to be filled in before my next visit, a blood testing monitor, test strips, a large box of lancets and a sharps bin for their safe disposal. There was a twist of irony in the sharps bin – back in the 70s, the single piece of health and safety advice from the archaeologists had been to “look out for the needles that the Americans used to dump on this patch of ground”.