Ward 76: There’s a Story Behind Every Hospital Visit

Sam and Shirley Jamil are a mother and son team, bringing to life the scenes behind Sam’s regular visits to Manchester Children’s Hospital. This is an article by Shirley, who explains the team’s journey of transforming their experience into art. Read on to find out how their Manchester Independents theatre show, Ward 76, came to life, and what you can expect from the performance.

Sam was born with a rare degenerative genetic condition called Mucolipdosis type lll. We were unaware of this until the symptoms started when he was around 5 years old. It affects his joints, organs and gradually gets worse as Sam ages.   

Whilst trying to discover his condition, Sam and I visited various hospitals with many different medics spanning years- all trying to figure out how best to treat Sam as there is no cure for ML.We believe Sam is 1 of the 20 correctly diagnosed people in England living with ML lll.

At first, going to appointments were terrifying, because we never knew what news they were going to tell us each time. Gradually, we both built up some kind of resilience to the unpredictability, and started to see the smaller things around us. Like various little quirks that only happen in a hospital. I’d point quirky situations out to Sam and over time he came to spot the eccentric behaviours of his fellow patients and his own experiences.

During Lockdown, Sam couldn’t attend college as he’d had surgery and was isolating. He joined a Zoom session with his class where I overheard him retelling a story of an event that had happened in hospital- only he retold it in a different way to how I saw it. His delivery was very steady and moving. The students were quiet, expecting the worst. When the time was right, he ended the tale with a punchline, everyone gasped- then nervously started laughing. The more they laughed, the more he played on his delivery.

He was buzzing, and at that moment, I felt a lightbulb turn on inside me. Sam should do ‘stand up’ – or rather, should I say ‘sit down’ – comedy about funny everyday happenings at the hospital! We had plenty of material. But Sam wasn’t convinced and didn’t like the idea. I was persistent. Frustrated, I told him I’d write a play and get someone else to play the lead. He wasn’t bothered, until I told him I’d written the play and was submitting it in to a competition.

Ward 76 is a story that you can relate to if you have firsthand experience of going through the hospital system. We wrote this story from the perspective of teenage patients, not their parents or medical consultants, who usually tell them what and how they should be feeling.

It takes place in a paediatric post-operation ward during a power outage, where patients are forced to interact with each other as they can’t use their electronic devices. It’s about peer support, acceptance and toilet humour, but also discusses darker themes like cyber bullying, mental health, and racial profiling. It gives you an insight into the minds of vulnerable patients, and how they want to be treated and understood. It’s a story about fears, friendships, and resilience.


About the artist

Shirley & Sam are a mother and son team bringing to life the many stories they’ve collected during Sam’s hospital visits over the years.