I didn’t know Jacintha Saldanha. But I might have done. Because what happened to her could just as easily have happened to me. I am tired today. My brain is foggy and sluggish. I am a lawyer and I have been on call all night, my sleep interrupted by call after call from the police. But I still have to function at 2 a.m. and again at 3.00 and 4.00. I have to give advice that might have an impact on someone else’s life or on my own career. And I can’t help but think that had I been a nurse working on night shifts, had I been tired, had I been charged with the overwhelming responsibility for other peoples lives, had I spent my working life clearing up other people’s vomit or faeces, had I spent my days trying to ease suffering and pain and my nights watching people slip into death, had I lived repeatedly through the personal tragedies of others, had I watched helplessly as bad news was broken to grieving families… and then had I received a phone call at 5.30 a.m. from someone asking for news of someone they cared about – then, yes, I might have put the call through to the ward. I may not have questioned the authenticity of the person making that call. I might not have cared too much (no disrespect, Your Majesty) that she was the Queen. I might just have been trying to do my job. I may not have expected for one moment that the call was from someone who was trying to trip me up, to trick me for fun and for the advancement of their own career. The authenticity of the person making that call just might not have been at the forefront of my mind.
I didn’t know Jacintha Saldanha, but I suspect that, like me, she was brought up to believe in the inherent goodness of other people. I don’t doubt for one moment that the two Australian DJ’s were shocked and horrified to learn of her death. They couldn’t reasonably have foreseen that this would be the outcome of their moment of fun. But, I do believe that the average person would have foreseen that their prank might have serious consequences, that someone tricked into giving out confidential information might lose their job or even their career. And then what? Their home? Their family? The possibilities were in fact endless. So why would Jacintha Saldanha be expected to have stopped to question whether anyone would do such a thing?
Her family reported that she was a devout woman who would have felt deep shame by what happened. How much shame would one person have to feel to take her own life? Her suffering must have been immense. And that is heartbreaking because she should not have needed to feel that way. Though I can understand why she did. Shame can be a crippling emotion; I know the feeling well. All my life, I have felt my mistakes deeply. And at times I have also been the butt of other people’s jokes and have felt that deeply too. Some people do feel things more deeply than others and although we are all human and at times have to shout, let off steam or behave in a way that we sometimes find difficult to control, we must remember that there is always a consequence of our actions and it may be the most vulnerable members of our society that get hurt.
Jacintha, you have touched the nation’s hearts, and you have done so because there are far more people out there that can relate to your situation than you might have realised. Far from standing out alone as an object of derision, as you might have imagined, you were one of us. Someone deeply human, someone who we as a society should have been looking out for. Someone who dedicated her life to caring for others. Someone who should have stood tall and proud.