This poem was reportedly written by a woman who died in the geriatric ward of Ashludie Hospital near Dundee, Scotland. It was found among her possessions and so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital. Though it was addressed to the nurses who surrounded the woman in her last days, it cries for recognition of a common humanity…it could have been written to all of us. No information is available concerning her — who she was or when she died. Reprinted from the “Assessment and Alternatives Help Guide” prepared by the Colorado Foundation for Medical Care.
What do you see, nurse… what do you see? Are you thinking – when you look at me:
“A crabbed old woman, not very wise; Uncertain of habit with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice ‘I do wish you’d try.'” Who seems not to notice the things that you do And forever is losing a stocking or shoe;
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see? Then open your eyes, nurse. You’re not looking at me!
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still.
As I move at your bidding, eat at your will:
– I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another;
– A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon a love she’ll meet;
– A bride at twenty, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep; – At twenty-five now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home. – A woman of thirty, my young now grow fast.
Bound together with ties that should last.
– At forty, my young sons have grown up and gone,
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn; – At fifty once more babies play ‘round my knee
Again we know children, my loved ones and me…
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead.
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own, And I think of the years
and the love that I’ve known.
I’m an old woman now, and nature is cruel. ‘Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool. The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart. There is a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells, And now again my bittered heart swells;
I remember the joys, I remember the pain
and I’m loving and living life over again;
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast And accept the stark fact that nothing can last; So open your eyes, nurse, open and see… not a crabbed old woman.
Look closer… see me!
NURSE’S RESPONSE – Author Unknown
What do we see, you ask, what do we see?
Yes, we are thinking when looking at thee!
We may seem to be hard when we hurry and fuss, but there’s many of you, and too few of us.
We would like far more time to sit by you and talk, to bath you and feed you and help you to walk. To hear of your lives and the things you have done.
Your childhood, your husband, your daughter and your son.
But time is against us, there’s too much to do – Patients too many, and nurses too few.
We grieve when we see you so sad and alone, with nobody near you, no friends of your own. We feel all your pain, and know of your fear that nobody cares now your end is so near.
But nurses are people with feelings as well, and when we’re together you’ll often hear tell of the dearest old Gran in the very end bed, and the lovely old Dad, and the things that he said.
We speak with compassion and love, and feel sad when we think of your lives and the joy that you’ve had.
When the time has arrived for you to depart,
You leave us behind with an ache in our heart. When you sleep the long sleep, no more worry or care.
There are other old people, and we must be there. So please understand if we hurry and fuss.
There are many of you, and too few of us.
Painting: Reflection series 32#24 by Heather Goodwind