Nik Hartley, Restless Development’s CEO, begins three-months paternity leave – sharing it equally with his wife . Before heading off, Nik reflects how they didn’t anticipate quite how important that would turn out to be.
Well that wasn’t meant to happen.
I was popping off to have a baby boy. I would be back at work 2 weeks later. All would be well. Sal would take the first three months leave and I would tag team for the second three months. Restless would thrive. Our careers would too. And so would our son….
I want to tell what happened next because I want people to know our story; a story that unfolded just as, bluntly, the United Kingdom was too.
4th June: Four days after our wee baby boy was born we went down to our GP a little worried he was going quiet and limp and had diarrhoea. Some medicine and all would be well.
Two hours later he was in intensive care in Milton Keynes Hospital, in an incubator. 4 wires, 3 cannula drips and a feeding tube to get basic fluids into him. Our world collapsed. And then became a permanent state of suspended hell in a high dependency neo natal unit.
24 hours later he was still critical, tests were being done, everything from a spinal tap for meningitis to X-rays, scans and repeated blood tests till he ran out of veins they could tap.
We stayed at the hospital in a room especially for parents with babies in the neo natal unit. The publicly funded NHS gave us that room so we never had to be more than 10 metres from his incubator; tag teaming through the nights.
Eventually he turned a corner and started getting better. He had infections in his urinary system, his blood and maybe on his lungs. But he was getting better and our daughter would be able to come back from my parents in Stoke.
The Neo Natal unit was simply amazing. The facilities. And the people: our senior consultant Lazarus Anguvaa from Western Uganda got everything right. At every step his analysis and care plan turned out the best. His registrar from Kolkata similarly brilliant. And the nurses, Eliza from Poland, Marta from Spain, Bene from Italy… technical and caring every minute of every long 24 hours.
Then Lazarus sat us down with some news. As he’d predicted, ultra sound was showing the baby’s renal system had some structural issues. We’d have to go straight to the specialists at the Children’s Hospital at John Radcliffe in Oxford. Our daughter and her granny turned round at the station back to Stoke.
And we headed straight to John Radcliffe.
And there we had a similar story of ups and downs. This time though immediate and critical replaced by long term guessing and prognoses. And again a stunning team of consultants (this time surgeons) and nurses from across the world.
Many tests and scans later it turns out Nye (we’d named him by hospital number 2!) had some faulty valve(s) between his bladder and kidney causing urine to flow into his kidney instead of out. This is a condition a few people have. He is at the bad end which could risk long term health and even the kidneys themselves, but even so surgery is only likely.
The final question was whether he could take his catheter out. After 24 hours of measuring wee output, he passed! Suddenly we could go home. Long term anti bios to avoid new infections (likely) but nothing else. Next appointment September for a whole day of kidney scans and then again through the autumn, till November, where a team of amazing paediatric urologists will make plans for surgery or not. He will remain under their care till he is 18.
As we headed into the light our world had changed forever. And so had the UK.
I headed back for three months at the helm of the most wonderful job in the world, with the small challenge of launching a new global strategy!
And now as the tests begin, I start my three months of the six months of parenting leave we had planned to share.
With the counterpoints of our entire focus on a tiny boy, juggling our careers that we love and a completely new country whose status is TBD, a few thoughts from our experience:
I always told Restless Development’s inspirational founder, Jim Cogan, it is easier to save the world than an individual. At the time it was a critique of founder director syndrome; of the success of an idea over the care of a staff member. Now I see more clearly than ever the hundreds of individual people that make up Restless Development with their individual lives and challenges. Many so much harder than anything I have faced. Each matters. None are a unit, team or job spec.
The N H S. Each word means so much. We take it for granted at our peril. Ask our colleagues in our other nine hubs around the world. The multi-national make-up of the NHS staff is the obvious observation during this socio-political transformation in the UK, and bluntly everywhere. But the subtler points need understanding. Sal and I have not signed a piece of paper through this story. No insurance company had to decide what tests were appropriate… or value for money (ugh). The friends we made (sickened and exhausted fellow parents) united in our worry, bonded by the NHS support, were from every socio-cultural-economic background you could dream up. We were without distinction to the N H Service and its expert caring staff. No form or payment system surreptitiously dividing us.
I never stopped caring about Restless and what it was doing, planning, worrying about and of course achieving every day. In a decade and a half I have never taken a day off sick. This was a shocking way to break that little pattern. But I saw just how mature, driven and bluntly irrepressible Restless has become. It is not what is does that is special, but how it does it. 400 staff, 4000 volunteers, leading everything.
And so I could take my own advice – and focus on saving a 3.3 kg individual. I am finally headed on leave in September for the best part of three months to be the primary carer for Nye. Sal will build back her consultancy. I think that might just be the best leadership I can give anyone. At Restless. In a little crib by our bed. Or anywhere I can be of use.
Nik Hartley OBE, August 2016
Nik will be back for our Directors Conference and launch of our global strategy in Nepal in December.