Why did nurse at Kate Middleton’s hospital kill herself?

December 8, 2012

LONDON — It’s the million-dollar question, and not only here in the U.K. Jacintha Saldanha — one of the nurses taken in by the prank phone call to the hospital where Catherine, duchess of Cambridge, was being treated for acute morning sickness — killed herself early Friday. And we are all left scratching our heads. Why did she do it?

Of course, the first thing we all wonder is about her mental stability. We’d all desperately like to believe that this hard-working mother of two, who commuted 140 miles to her day job, often working double shifts so that she could spend more time with her family — must have some deep, dark secret to hide. Because then the rest of us could at least explain away an event that is, as the chairman of King Edward VII Hospital put it,  “tragic beyond words.”

But from what we know, there is no sign that Saldanha was suicidal, unstable or psychologically frail before she took her own life this week. Shy and nervous? Yes. But so depressed she was suicidal? Doesn’t sound right, at least according to those who knew Saldanha, who was described at work as “an excellent nurse, well-respected and popular with all of her colleagues.”

Maybe she faced some kind of severe sanction from the hospital where she worked? Maybe the hospital blamed her for falling for a hoax in which two Australian DJs masquerading as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles managed to fool the diligent but non-native English speaker, who subsequently passed the phone call on to the Duchess’s private nurse, who then revealed details about the duchess’s condition?


WiIliam and Kate leave London’s King Edward VII hospital. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Wrong again. According to the BBC, the hospital neither disciplined nor suspended Saldanha. Nor did Buckingham Palace place any pressure on the hospital to do so. Rather, BBC correspondent Nicholas Witchell said that it had been suggested to him by hospital staff that Saldanha felt “lonely and confused” as a result of what had happened.

Which brings us to another explanation — which seem outlandish, but is widely considered possible: Jacintha Saldanha killed herself because she couldn’t live with the guilt of having violated the royal family’s privacy.

To understand why this might be plausible, you need to appreciate just what hallowed ground the royal family holds in this country — and within it, William and Kate in particular. When the young couple wed two years ago, the event was a nonstop mediathon from the moment they announced their engagement, not to mention on the day itself, when the entire country took a national holiday to take in the spectacle.

With her gracious manner, middle-class origins and girl-next-door beauty, Catherine has captured the British public’s imagination in a way that even her elegant, much-loved, would-have-been mother-in-law, the late Princess Diana, didn’t quite manage. And that’s because, unlike Lady Di, Kate Middleton is one of us.

So when the fairy tale princess goes into the hospital with acute morning sickness, we’re all on the edge of our seats, because there’s so very much riding on her being okay, not to mention the third-in-line-to-the-throne inside her womb.

Which is a heckuva lot to carry on your shoulders if you’re an immigrant nurse who happens to make the wrong decision on a phone call when you’re tired and trying too hard and haven’t quite mastered the language of the country you live in.

None of which is to suggest that the royal family is to blame for Jacintha Saldanha’s death. Nor do I think it’s fair to blame the two Australian DJs, though many people do.

But perhaps this tragic event will remind all of us to invest a tiny bit less in the private affairs of the royals going forward.

Doing so won’t bring Jacintha Saldanha back. But it will perhaps render her needless death a tiny bit less mysterious.

 Delia Lloyd is an American journalist based in London who was previously the London correspondent for Politics Daily. She blogs about adulthood at www.realdelia.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @realdelia.

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