In my first week of parish nursing I was asked to visit Phillip. I hadn't been told much about him other than that he used to attend the church.

I arrived and let myself in the back door as I'd been instructed. I'm always amazed by how trusting some older people are; I could've been anyone wandering about his house. After sticking my head in nearly every room I found him upstairs in bed just finishing his lunch. Phillip was only in his late seventies but had issues with his circulation, which meant that at times it was too painful to walk. Today was one of those days, which was why he had his legs up in bed. It was clear that he was once a strong man; he was still solid and broad shouldered as he sat in his pyjamas.

After I introduced myself he told me that he'd been on the television the night before. Not knowing Phillip yet I wasn't quite sure if he was mentally sound or not. It was quite a strange thing to say upon meeting someone for the first time, I thought. I asked him why he had been on television and he explained that he had been one of the pallbearers for Winston Churchill! The night before had been an anniversary of the prime minister's death and a special programme had been shown. Phillip went on to tell me about how the weight of the coffin was almost too much for him and the other men he was with, and they nearly dropped it lifting it onto the barge that carried it down the Thames. After telling me this incredible story he told me to open his wardrobe door. I wasn't sure why I had to do this but, once I did, I saw the very military uniform that Phillip had worn on the day of Winston Churchill's funeral. Just amazing. Phillip was definitely of sound mind and would turn out to be rather a fascinating man. Even though his stories sounded extraordinary, I spoke to people who had known him many years who were able to corroborate them.

He became one of my regular patients and I visited him about twice a week unless he needed extra assistance with medical appointments. After spending more time with him I discovered that, despite his ill health, he continued to run the admin side of his building firm and also managed properties that he let out. He had an office in one of his spare rooms and he sometimes asked me to help out by taking calls and organising meetings with his staff! I didn't mind; it was a change for me from dressings and blood pressure monitoring.

I once drove him to a hospital appointment and forgot that I needed to drive more smoothly than my usual rally style of driving. We were waiting at the lights when a young girl pulled up next to me in a right hand turn lane and I just had the feeling she was planning to overtake me. I wasn't having that and as soon as the lights turned amber I floored it to make sure I left her behind. Then I glanced at Phillip next to me, a bit worried that he'd be cross, but found him roaring with laughter. He thought it was fantastic and had enjoyed the exhilaration!

On this journey he told me another story from his military days serving in Cyprus. Phillip had been ordered to assassinate a man and had reluctantly accepted the mission. He was lying in the long, dry grass outside this man's house watching and waiting to shoot. When the front door opened, instead of the man who was the target, a young girl emerged followed by a little boy who Phillip assumed was her brother. He held fire but was now in a difficult situation, not wanting to shoot a man in front of his children. Then a second problem surfaced. Because Phillip was lying so low he noticed a venomous snake approaching the children. He was torn. If he shot the snake he would reveal his position but if he didn't, the children would be in serious danger. He shot the snake. He turned to flee the scene but as he did Phillip found the man he was supposed to kill standing behind him. He had seen everything and instead of retaliating he thanked Phillip for saving his children. He even shook his hand and agreed to call it quits that day.

During the procedure at the hospital Phillip surprised me again by casually mentioning to the nurses that he had served in the army with Harold Shipman. An unusual story to tell medical staff I know. He went on to say that he had been so sad and disappointed to hear what Harold went on to do because he had always been a decent man when Phillip had known him. I remember this really riled up one of the nurses who furiously declared that he couldn't have been that decent if he'd murdered hundreds of patients. I felt sorry for Phillip at this point. It wasn't his fault that he had liked the man and he certainly wasn't condoning what he had done. I felt that it was quite unprofessional of her to speak so aggressively to Phillip. He seemed to shrug it off though. I guess he'd been in far more confrontational situations than that.

Changing the subject, the male nurse carrying out the procedure then asked me if I was a relative of Phillip's. I explained that no, I was a nurse who worked through his church to help care for the elderly.  He seemed to love this idea and said 'Wow, that's what church should really about isn't it? Caring for people'. This struck a chord with me and I thought that yes, it most definitely should be. Despite growing up in church I've always felt that I don't quite fit in there. I've often felt a bit naughtier than my peers and never been able to immerse myself in all aspects of church. However, I do know this. If we all followed the ancient and simple advice of being kind and loving to each other regardless of background, colour, faith, gender, sexual orientation, financial status or anything else, this world would be a much better place. So for now, I'll continue to show God's love the best way I know how. And that is by caring for people through my job and beyond.


  1. Hi Emma I truly enjoyed this blog entry I love learning about history and how real people are always part of it . It makes me want to meet Phillip. And yes the Church is about caring for others and I am glad you are sharing how you serve God in this way. Keep up the great writing

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