STRAIGHT TALK: Real time tragedy unfolds on airwaves

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IT was spellbinding and it broke your heart to hear it. You had to help somehow but you couldn’t.

The voice of a young Bahraini female doctor, trapped in an upstairs room with 20 other medical staff, as government troops started to work their way through the hospital towards them.

It was happening as we listened yesterday morning.

She was telling a Radio Four audience comfortable in their safe cars and safer homes in the UK that she and the others were remnants of a previous night’s shift. Staff arriving for work that morning had been turned away by the soldiers.

“We’re doctors and nurses, we don’t care about politics, we just want to look after our patients in the hospital.”

They’d moved patients to a higher floor in the six-storey building to try to save them, but many were getting more sick as tear gas poured in.

While some had been wounded in the street protests, many more were old or ill or pregnant just as you’d find in any hospital anywhere.

Power had been turned off, and patients on ventilators had just half an hour before their lifelines cut out too.

The reporter back in London said: “The troops are in the hospital already. They’re coming through floor by floor. So it’s inevitable they’ll find you...”

Her voice faltered as she thanked the brave young doctor.

Immediately the Today programme switched to an item about opera in the UK, and I switched off.

It was like a film, I thought, but not.

The frightening predicament, the compassion for others, the high emotion, reined in by sheer courage and the need to tell the world the truth: it’s what drama’s made of.

Actors playing doctors in ER seem to face similar horrors and dilemmas every episode.

But this is real, happening in real time, with real people in deadly danger.

And not a happy ending in sight.

While Libyans fight their tyrant and the Japanese show stoic dignity in the face of unimaginable triple disaster, the weirdest thing is that normal life continues here while all that is going on.

I get to the office with the Bahraini doctor’s voice still haunting my brain and nobody, but nobody is talking about any of this week’s international roll of death, destruction and disaster.

Getting on with work, having to concentrate, it fades for me too.

What is there to say, after all?

Much better to take to the streets as Holbeach Rotarians did this week to collect for the victims in Japan, stretching out a helping hand as soon as they heard the news.

Practical help and friendship are what’s needed. It’s the least we can do.