My Last Photo

My Last Photo – Nancy Nelson

Nancy Nelson, 35, lives in Oxford and works as a haematology nurse. She talks to Saša Janković about her journey to the UK from Thodupuzha in the Indian state of Kerala in November 2019 along with 30 other nurses who were also taking up placements at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital.

By Saša Jankovic

So Nancy, what brought you to the UK?

I had broken up with my husband and I just wanted to escape from that to somewhere else. My plan was to go to Australia, but the immigration process takes a really long time so when an interview came up in England at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust I jumped at the chance as I was so desperate to get away.

What do you think of England so far?

I’m here now on a three-year contract at the hospital and I really love it, but I miss my children. I have five-year-old twins – a boy called Achu, and a girl called Aami – but my ex-husband won’t allow me to bring them here so they are living with my parents. 

Oh crikey! So are those your children in those photos on the wall behind you?

Yes. My last photo shows me in my room in the nurses digs. The pictures on my wall are from when I finally managed to get back to India to see my children in December 2020, after having to cancel my ticket three times because of the pandemic. I’m wearing one of my favourite churidars and the reason my hair looks so shiny is down to my cousin, who is a beautician and did a smoothing treatment on my hair when I went back home. 

I see a pen pot behind you the desk but it looks like it has cutlery in it too. 

Yes it does! Food and cooking is a big part of my life. When I flew over here from India the airline allowed us to bring 40kg of hold luggage plus 7kg in hand luggage. I’d packed my bags full of food as I didn’t know what I’d be able to get here and I was more concerned about my food than anything else – but it turns out you have everything here. I also brought my cooking vessels, pressure cooker and tea kettle, which amused immigration officials when I was going for my connecting flight in New Delhi. They asked me to open all my bags and when they saw what I’d packed they told me I could get all of this in the UK. If I’d have known that when I was packing I would definitely have brought more clothes with me.

So do you cook Indian food for yourself every day?

I take my own lunch to work but I have been trying lots of English food. One of my colleagues invited some of us to her home and cooked us an English breakfast, which I really liked, but I like my food spicy so I’m going to make a spicy version.

What else has surprised you about the UK?

This is my first time here and what surprised me was that back home I had been doing my ELT (English Language Teaching) teaching English to non-native speakers, so I thought when I came to here I would be able to understand people fully, but in reality it felt like I was hearing a totally strange language. Not only could I not follow what others were saying, I found I couldn’t carry on a conversation either, as if someone had tied my mouth shut. This was pretty challenging at work because communication is very important in nursing as people share their feelings with us, but my colleagues have been really wonderful and very patient with me and I’m much better now.

I’m glad to hear you have felt welcomed here.

I honestly haven’t experienced racism in this country – although I haven’t explored much outside the hospital further than the supermarket or the city centre – and I certainly haven’t faced any discrimination from patients. 

I’m also happy to discover that, unlike in India, patients have the right to have some choice about their treatment. Back home they don’t like asking patients what treatment they want for the diagnosis they have – mostly we have private hospitals, and government hospitals don’t have enough facilities, but I think it’s mainly because human rights are not a priority in the medical field. 

That sounds frightening. Have you had any experience of that?

I had a caesarean with my children as they were premature. Afterwards I was in a lot of pain but the doctors didn’t listen to me. They just gave me heat gels, and told me the reason I couldn’t walk was because I hadn’t moved around enough or drunk enough water. On the third day I fell unconscious, they scanned me and found that I had internal bleeding so they reopened me, put in two drains from my stomach, and gave me a blood transfusion. No one explained to my parents what was happening, and my father got very angry and asked for me to be discharged so he could take me to the other hospital but they wouldn’t let him. I thought I would die, so asked my brother to take my children. In the end I spent 15 days in hospital in total.

Gosh! And did you get any further support after that?

We only get three months maternity leave, so because I needed bed rest when I was pregnant I’d already resigned from work. Back home the woman’s family have to pay delivery fees and other chargers for her first pregnancy, although this tradition is changing now – a bit like the dowry system, which is illegal now, although brides’ families will still give things like cars and call it a ‘gift’.

Do you think you’ll stay?

My sister is also a nurse and she works in Maidstone hospital, so I see her when I can. The difference is that she is here with her family. I really like working in England, but if my ex-husband won’t change his mind about letting my children live with me then I will return to India at the end of my contract.

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