By Lucy Ashton
He’s a real-life Mr Gepetto – chipping and carving away in his back-garden workshop, bringing wood to life like a modern-day Pinocchio and changing people’s lives into the bargain.
So after Campbell McDonald spent four weeks in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, right, being nursed back to health after a life-threatening infection, there was only one thing he could ever do.
He got home, got back to work, and over the next eight months made every member of staff who worked on the unit a personalised gift.
A guitar stand for a music lover, a gift of friendship for a domestic who stopped to chat every day, a special carving for a consultant who gave him a jar of her own honey to make his breakfast a little better – FIFTY mementoes crafted lovingly from wood and designed individually to be a perfect fit for their personality and interests.
Campbell, 74, from the village of Whitecross near Linlithgow, had been rushed to the QEUH in January this year, suffering from a severe infection after contracting cellulitis. He’d originally been taken to the Forth Valley Hospital in Larbert, but on seeing just how ill he was medics sent him to the Glasgow hospital to receive specialist care.
“I’d contracted sepsis,” said Campbell, “and after being blue-lighted to the QEUH they found I had a kidney issue so I was put on dialysis.”
Campbell was in the kidney unit, Ward 4A, at the hospital for four weeks receiving treatment for acute kidney injury, and in that time he got to know the staff well, and he came to develop a huge appreciation and gratitude for the work they did.
“I just wanted to say thank you, to all of them. They’d fixed my leg and got my kidneys to work again – they were all so important to my recovery that I wanted to do something.”
So over the rest of his time in the unit, an idea formed in his head. He chatted to the staff, listened to their stories. He tried to “get inside their heads” and work out what they’d really like – and when he got home he got to work.
As a joiner and cabinet maker to trade, Campbell retreated to the workshop at the back of his house – named ‘Dad’s Shed’ by his family – and over the next eight months he chipped and whittled, sawed and sanded, forming blocks of wood into tokens of friendship, gratitude and love.
“Take the domestic, Sheila Goldie, who came and cleaned the ward,” he said. “We talked every day, so I created something that reminded me of friendship.
“Then there was Pamela Alexander, one of the Charge Nurses on the unit. She was really lovely and helped me with my dialysis when I wasn’t well. I wanted to make something that really said thank you to her.
“And Kevin McCafferty, he was the main man for me. He was something else – always laughing, always joking. My leg was quite bad, and he really looked after me. I really appreciated that, so I made him something I thought he might appreciate just as much.
“Or Housekeeper Barrie Sweeney. I was out of Lucozade one day and really needed a drink, so he went away and brought me back tins of Irn-Bru. I wanted to craft something that showed my appreciation.”
The list of special people – and the gifts Campbell made – goes on and on.
“One day I was chatting to Kate Stevens, one of the consultants, about how I missed my honey in my porridge. It turns out she was a beekeeper so the next day she arrived in my room, with a jar of her own honey for me to enjoy with my porridge.
“It was such a lovely gesture and I made her something that seemed fitting.
“Then there was the lovely woman Jackie McPhail, a Weekend Domestic. She used to bring me porridge every morning, and one day I said ‘that’s not very much’, so she went off and got me more. These little gestures meant so much to me, so I tried to portray that in wood.
“I have stories for them all. In fact I got pictures of all of the staff to remind me of them, and ticked them off as I went. Working like this really helped me to get well again, and to think I was doing something – no matter how small – for those staff who helped me, was lovely.”
Campbell didn’t tell anyone on Ward 4A what he was working on, so on 22nd August he just told them he had a present for them and turned up with his gifts.
So what did staff think of the work he’d put in for them?
“They didn’t really say anything – just thank you. It was almost like they were embarrassed,” Campbell said. “I don’t think all the staff at that hospital, or across the NHS for that matter, really appreciate how they change people’s lives with their care, and their kindness.”
Alison McKechnie, Senior Charge Nurse at the QEUH Renal Unit, was there when Campbell presented his gifts. She said: “All I can say is thank you. All the staff were so surprised and so pleased.
“It’s always lovely to receive a gift, but Campbell had been with us for a fair while, and he’d got to know the staff so well that this was particularly special given the thought and effort he had put in.”
Campbell himself was more reluctant to receive praise than to give it out. When he heard how touched staff were, he tried to brush it off.
“Ach, it’s nothing really. I don’t want thanks or anything. For the people on Ward 4A who looked after me, did so much for me, I just wanted to give them something they could appreciate. I didn’t want anything in return.”
And his plans for the future?
“I was pretty unwell – in fact, at the time I didn’t realise how bad it was. I’m still living with the aftermath, but I’m always be grateful for all that they did for me.
“I’ll keep working away in my shed, and give my work to people I know. I just look out for people who I think would appreciate a wee lift – if I can touch their lives even a little bit, that makes it all worthwhile.”
Campbell mentions his appreciation and love for his wife of 35 years, Linda – and then he adds: “To be honest, I’m really just doing this to keep out of her way!”
Top: Campbell with staff nurses, from left – Allyssa Fernandez, Jacqueline Laird, Amber Mathieson, Margaret Pollock, Rikki Harper and Claire Sutherland.
Middle: Campbell hard at work, and some of the gifts he carved.
Bottom: Campbell at his workshop – or ‘Dad’s Shed’ as his family has called it.