Thursday, 21 June 2012

An Ambulance Down In The Valley

Around nine years ago or so, I first heard this poem from my chiropractor as he explained his reasons for believing preventative healthcare is far more important than treating symptoms of illness.  I'd forgotten about the poem for years but a couple of days ago, it suddenly popped into my head again and I realized it relates perfectly why I believe GBS testing is not only essential but just plain logical.  Have a read and see what you think:

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant:
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and many a peasant;
So the people said something would have to be done.
But their projects did not at all tally:
Some said, "Put a fence around the edge of the cliff"
Some, "An ambulance down in the valley."

But the cry for the ambulance carried the day.
For it spread to the neighboring city:
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became brimful of pity
For those who had slipped o’er that dangerous cliff,
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds or gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

"For the cliff is alright if your careful," they said,
"and if folks even slip or are dropping,
it isn't the slipping that hurts them so much
as the shock down below-when they're stopping,"

So day after day when these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would the rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.

Then an old man remarked, "it's a marvel to me
that people give far more attention
to repairing results than to stopping the cause,
when they'd much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief, cried he.
"Come neighbors and friends, let us rally :
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
with the ambulance down in the valley."

"Oh, he's a fanatic." the others rejoined:
"dispense with the ambulance - Never!
He'd dispense with all charities, too, if he could:
no, no! We'll support them forever.
Aren't we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why would people of sense stop to put up a fence?
While their ambulance works in the valley?"

But a sensible few who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer
They believe that prevention is better than cure
And their party will soon be the stronger
Encourage them, then with your purse, voice and pen
And (while other philanthropists dally)
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

The Best Loved Poems of the American People
Compiled by Hazel Felleman

Written by Joseph Malines
Published by Doubleday, 1936

At the moment, unlike many other countries in the world, the NHS have refused to "put a fence around the edge of the cliff" by introducing routine, prenatal GBS testing.  Because so many more women carry the GBS bacteria than babies will be infected by it, they believe there is no need for a fence at the top of the cliff.  Instead, they operate "an ambulance down in the valley" and "just as fast as they fall" they pick up the babies who become infected by GBS by taking them to Neonatal Intensive Care, treating them with vast amounts of antibiotics and other emergency medications and then continue to support the children who survive with ongoing disability support.  This was our experience with Adam and once he got sick, that "ambulance down in the valley" picked him up and treated him.  They saved his life and so I am incredibly grateful that emergency care was available.

But why let them get sick in the first place?  Why not "build a fence at the top of the cliff"?  "For the cliff is alright if your careful," they said..."  Not many babies will get GBS infections.  We don't need to worry about prevention.  So long as we treat them once they're sick, that's all that matters...isn't it?  But "building a fence" is less expensive than maintaining "the ambulance down in the valley", it's more effective, it's more humane.  There are medical statistics that show unequivocally that it has worked in other countries - It's simply logical.

As I'm preparing to visit the House of Commons next week to share Adam's story with MP's, I truly believe "a fence at the top of the cliff" in the form of routine, prenatal GBS testing makes so much more sense than relying solely on "the ambulance down in the valley".  I hope and pray this logic makes sense to the MP's as well.


  1. I love the poem Char, almost brings tears to my eyes. Good on you, I know you will do GBS testing proud in London. Love Sheila

  2. It makes so much more sense. And is a beautiful poem to prove it! It's marvellous what they did for Adam, but I really feel for you that they didn't do something sooner: prenatally. I'm sure most mothers would take a course of antibiotics if it meant avoiding NICU and whatever follows. These risks might seem slight if you have never been the one that fell, but for those, why risk all you hold dear? Good luck next week, you will do all GBS families proud I know xx

  3. I think Mouse that you've hit the nail on the head - the risks may seem slight if you have never been the one that fell. Just looking at the statistics of the number of women who carry GBS as opposed to the number of babies who get it....well it doesn't seem thaaaaaaaat bad....does it?? But if you're the one whose child has fallen, been critically ill and survived disabled - as I am - then your perspective changes.

    It also occurs to me that in this era of health and safety, how many cliffs in the UK are without at least one, if not two layers of fencing, plus warning signs and sometimes even security cameras? Those are obviously real cliffs, but for me this was a real cliff and it had no fences and no warning signs. The ambulance in the valley certainly was a good and lifesaving thing but a fence would have been better!

    Thank you both for your kindness.


Please, feel free to share your thoughts or reactions to this post. Comments are very welcome!