The Foreign Patient

Joe Lanzon
St. David’s Community Hospital was a small 50 bed hospital serving the five thousand community of the coal-mining town of Aberfan in the Welsh valleys where the river Taff flows gently through its borders. It was run by Dr James Knox, two other doctors, six nurses and a small administrative staff. For many years it had served the community well. 
 
As a result of the sterling service given by St. David’s, the residents and the workers of Aberfan did not need to go all the way to Cardiff, Swansea or the other big cities for their medical needs and well-being.  Dr Knox and his team had proved, on several occasions that they had the qualifications, the experience and the ability to diagnose grave ailments, to perform urgent operations and to mobilize in cases of emergency needs. 
 
The hospital had risen to the occasion in October of 1966 when the town suffered its worst disaster in its history. The accumulated rock and rubble excavated from the nearby mines, suddenly slid downhill. 40,000 cubic metres of debris landed on the village in minutes. 116 children and 28 adults were tragically killed. The staff at St. David’s gave first assistance and continued to play an important part in round the clock operations – treating the injured, performing emergency operations and other vital assistance. 
The Town Council owned the lease of the hospital but the actual owners of the property were the legal firm of Wallace and Williams based in Cardiff. In 1976 however, after 20 years of operation, the lease was about to expire. As the Council could not afford or raise up the five million pounds sterling being asked by the owners, the hospital had to close down in fifteen days time.
 
The Council, the hospital management and the whole community tried by all the means to raise the sum required but the sum was substantial and proved beyond them. They were now resigned that the hospital would have to close down. For their hospital needs the community would henceforth have to travel to the city.  
 
In June of the year 1976 St. David’s was therefore running its last fifteen days as a community hospital. Preparations were being made to close operations. Some of the patients would be discharged and would need only post hospital attention from the clinic. Others would require further treatment and would have to be transferred to the nearer hospitals. 
 
There were still ten patients being looked after in the hospital – six miners recovering from an explosion in the pit; two pregnant women; a cancer patient still under treatment and a Welsh Canadian who suffered a heart attack while, for some reason or other, he was in the village.
 
Dr Knox was now doing the rounds of the wards to see to the patients needs, talk to them and inform them of the future. He was so sad to see the end of this service. He talked to the two pregnant women who would be discharged within a few days following the successful birth of their sons, one of whom was by cesarean operation. 
 
Three of the miners would also be discharged but the other three would still require further treatment at another hospital. The woman suffering from cancer would have to be transferred to Cardiff and arrangements had already been made for this purpose.
When he approached Trevor Davies, the Welsh Canadian who happened to be in Aberfan when the heart attack occurred, he was considering how to transmit the notice that he would have to be transferred to Cardiff.  Hello Mr. Davies. How are you this morning?” said the doctor. “I feel fine,” replied the patient. “I owe you my life doctor. Thanks to your prompt intervention and ability, I am still among the living today. And to think that it had to happen in this lovely little village,” he continued.  
 
You will be all right,” replied Dr Knox. “Take life easier Mr. Davies, cut down on your whisky and cigars, avoid fatty foods, exercise daily. These guidelines should be implanted in your mind. Don’t forget them. Life is too valuable. But you’re healing nicely – no more tenderness than can be expected; blood pressure and temperature are sound; your heart is functioning normally. You’ll be OK. But we’re forced to transfer you to St Mary’s in Cardiff. I‘d rather keep you here and look after you myself but …………”
Mr. Davies nodded. “But you have to empty the building, including the patients, so that it can be put up for sale by the owners, right?”  “That’s it in a nutshell,” replied the doctor. 
 
The Welsh Canadian’s face grew stern. “Well, you disappoint me doctor.” Dr Knox straightened up. These words were unexpected from this always friendly patient. “Why?  Is something wrong?” he replied. “Yes, badly wrong. Why are you leaving this place?” asked Davies. “Because we have no other choice,” said Dr Knox. 
 
Why can’t you buy the building?” interjected again Davies. Dr. Knox fought down irritation. “Because we do not have the money”, he replied. “Then raise it. From the people who will use the hospital” shot out the patient.”  “We tried. But we’ve barely raised enough to buy a fraction of it!” replied the doctor. 
 
A slight smile twitched on Davies’s face. He looked at the sympathetic doctor who runs this place to perfection, the doctor who always had a smile on his young face, the doctor who treated his patients with care and dedication. Davies was sure that the doctor was genuinely devastated. “Perhaps you’ve been asking the wrong people” he said. 
 
We asked everyone – far and near for loans and donations to enable us to buy the hospital.” He said resignedly.
But you did not ask me! And I am offended” said Mr. Trevor Davies. The words were spoken quietly. So quietly, Dr.Knox wondered if he had misheard. He looked at his patient and exclaimed – “What did you say Mr. Davies?” I said that you did not ask me!” replied Davies in a matter of fact sort of way.
 
It transpired that Mr. Trevor Davies was born in Aberfan fifty five years before. He emigrated to Canada with his family when he was just ten years old. He operated a very successful construction business which made him a multi millionaire. After 45 years in Canada, he had decided to visit the little village in Wales where he was born. It was during this nostalgic visit that he suffered the heart attack and found himself at St. David’s hospital.
 
Mr. Davies immediately phoned his lawyers and accountants in Toronto. They made contact with Wallace and Williams in Cardiff and arranged an appointment to draw up a contract for the sale of the building. In the circumstances, St. David’s Hospital never closed down but continued uninterruptedly to give sterling service to the hard-working people of Aberfan thanks to the intervention of one of its own sons who fortunately happened to be in the village when all efforts to save the hospital had failed.