CORONAVIRUS: Local businesses salvage hen weekend for intensive care doctor

LOCAL businesses have answered the plea to surprise a young frontline NHS doctor who was forced to cancel her wedding and hen weekend after two years in the planning.

Melissa Hood and Mat Park, who have lived in Warwick for six years since meeting at Birmingham University, were devastated to learn they’d have to call off their big day in Tuscany, Italy, on May 25th.

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Melissa Hood and Mat Park take delivery of their Spanish five-course taster menu and wine from Tasca Dali.

But unbeknown to the bride – and determined not to let COVID-19 completely ruin the celebrations – her five bridesmaids reached out to local businesses from 200 miles away in Melissa’s home town of Newcastle, to cook up a series of special surprises for the couple.

And on Sunday they took in a steady stream of deliveries including food, drink and pamper treats. Central to the celebration was a five-course feast and wine courtesy of Tasca Dali Spanish restaurant in High Street, Warwick.

Other arrivals included complimentary cocktails from The Square and even a temporary hot tub from Lovely Tubbly, both businesses based in Warwick.

Twenty-eight-year-old Melissa, who works in ICU at Warwick Hospital, said: “It’s been the perfect storm of everything happening together like the wedding being cancelled, not being able to see family and this intense time at work.

“Mat and I were both gutted about the wedding. We felt bitter, upset and angry, almost like you’re mourning something. But when it started to become apparent how serious the pandemic was and you hear stories from other people in worse situations, you feel guilty for being upset because we’ve got it good compared to a lot of people.

“We started to look at rescheduling it for next year but because two of our bridesmaids and my dad are all teachers we are quite restricted. It has to be in the summer holidays.”

She added: “I’m so lucky to have such thoughtful and kind best friends. I feel humbled. It’s really taken me aback. We’ve been there for each other over the years but this has really brought home how much I love and miss them.”

“They managed to keep all the plans very quiet. I didn’t even know where the hen weekend was going to be. A lot of planning had gone into it and I was very excited about it but I’m so touched by their kindness and the kindness of these local businesses.”

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The makeshift hen party plans have been led by bridesmaid, and friend since school, Anna Gardner, who said: “Melissa is working so hard on the front line as a doctor, with her annual leave for the time being postponed, and all of her wedding dreams turned upside down. We wanted to show them both how much we love them and appreciate everything Melissa is doing for the NHS.

“We wanted to do something special for Melissa on what should have been her hen weekend, as we know how much she was looking forward to it.

“It was hard to think what we could do as us bridesmaids are in Newcastle, so I thought I would post a message in a group I found on Facebook and straight away I got messages, shares on the posts and offers of support, it’s been lovely and has brought some joy to a really hard time.”

The owner of award-winning Spanish restaurant Tasca Dali, Alex Clayton, said: “When I heard about Melissa and Mat’s story I was delighted to be able to do my bit to make their day special with a delivery of Tasca Dali’s delicious five-course taster menu, plus a bottle of wine.

Alex, who also owns Flamenco Spanish Restaurant in West Street, added: “Melissa is among our local frontline NHS team working so hard to protect us against the worst effects of this pandemic and, even though it is challenging times for the hospitality business, this is something I wanted to do, to say thanks.”

Dawn Blakemore, co-owner of Lovely Tubbly in Warwick, who arranged free hot tub hire for the day, said: “I really felt for Melissa. As if being a doctor in these times wasn’t challenging enough – and we sure appreciate the NHS now more than ever – we wanted to play our part in helping to give her a special day.”

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Richard Barrett-Constantinou prepares the cocktails from The Square outside Melissa’s front door.

Richard Barrett-Constantinou, who runs The Square in Warwick with his sister Joanna, said: “We provided some cocktails, a bottle of fizz and beers for Matt too so they could enjoy a private hen/stag party together and both feel special.”

Despite the huge disappointments, every shift in ICU acts as a reminder to Melissa, 28, to count her blessings as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to tighten its grip on communities. But she is also quick to reassure.

“It is a very intensive environment because we’re waiting for the full storm to hit. But there has been a lot of planning and preparation gone in to trying to make things as safe as possible and lots of rearranging of the hospital.

“For me, actually, the most important thing is for those people who are genuinely sick with other medical problems that are not COVID related, like chest pains or stroke, not to be scared to go to hospital because of COVID, because they still need medical attention. I have noticed a significant difference in numbers and it does worry me.”

She added: “There’s been a lot of talk about lack of PPE but I haven’t had a problem with it personally. A lot of work has been put into amending the rota so that we minimise exposure. The hospital is looking after us and we are being well supported.

“It is very touching to hear the clapping every week and we’ve been receiving lots of donations of food and cake from the public.”

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Melissa and Mat link up for a remote celebration with the bridesmaids.

Throughout it all, Melissa says she manages to keep herself grounded with regular running and Mat’s support. And, despite the pressure on her profession, still looks forward to making a difference every day.

“I’m actually really grateful that I’m able to do this job. Despite all the sadness, it’s given me the opportunity to do what I came into this profession for and help people. It’s rewarding work.”

Melissa says she is looking forward to being able to visit her friends and family again after lockdown. But in the meantime, her overriding message is a familiar one.

“I want to say thank you to everybody for adhering to the lockdown measures. We all know it’s really hard but what they’re doing by being at home is really important and we are so grateful. We can see every day that it is making a difference.”

Twenty-nine-year-old Mat, who is working from home as a purchasing controller, said: “I do worry about her but Melissa is so keen to get in. She really does love her job. I’m here to support her to make sure it’s as easy as possible at home so she can do everything she can at work. I’m very proud of her. I stand outside and clap every Thursday much to Melissa’s embarrassment. To see her go off and make a real difference does make you feel proud. It’s really good they’re getting the recognition they deserve.

“I just hope it’s not just a World Cup for the NHS but that everyone will always remember this period and realise what they do all day, every day and every week of the year. Hopefully long term there will be more of an awareness and an appreciation for the best healthcare service in the world.”

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