Thursday, September 13, 2007


Whilst sorting through a box of keepsakes the other day I came across a bundle of letters my daughter Julia had written to me whilst she was away doing her Nurse training. One of the envelopes was thicker than the others and on further examination, out fell a few sheets of neatly folded note paper on which was written a poem she had wanted me to read. The memory of this poem came flooding back and as I read the words again tears began to fill my eyes. The words of the poem were particularly poignant to me at the time as my Mother was in hospital suffering with Alhzeimer’s Disease.

‘A Crabbit Old Woman’

What do you see Nurse, What do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me?
A crabbit 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, unresisting or not, let’s you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is this what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, 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, as I eat as 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 now a lover she’ll meet.
A bride soon 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 grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty my young now soon will be gone,
But my man stays beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty, once more babies play round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one 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 busy rearing their own.
And I think of the years and the love I have 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 vigour depart -
And now there’s a stone where I once had a heart
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered 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 crabbit old woman, look closer - see ME.

I phoned my daughter and we had lengthy recall about the poem. I said I would like to post it on my blog. I asked how she came by the poem and how it affected her as a psychiatric Nurse. This is what Julia later emailed to me.......

During my 3 year training to be a Registered Mental Health Nurse in St Albans, Hertfordshire we were given a copy of a poem to study by our Tutor. We were told that this poem had been found amongst the few possessions of an old Irish lady who died in a Geriatric ward. The words this old lady had written, so impressed the nursing staff, that copies were distributed throughout the Mental Health Hospitals as a lesson to be learned..... In our second year we were required to undertake a 12 week placement on an Old Age Psychiatry Ward. Prior to this however, our dynamic Tutor set up an "Experiential Learning Workshop" where we as Students, were put into large, tilted back chairs we often see in hospitals, with trays bolted in front of us, and fed sweet, milky tea by some of our fellow students. They proceeded to speak loudly over our heads about what they had been up to the night before-letting the tea dribble down our necks. We were not asked if we took sugar or milk, or even if we were thirsty. It was 10 AM and 10 AM meant, everyone had to have tea!! We were blindfolded (as some of our patients were partially sighted) and led around in a rushed fashion, plonked in front of a TV showing children's cartoons, or subjected to noisy pop music on a radio. These experiences, together with the beautiful yet sad poem assisted us as nurses to really think about how we cared for our elderly, disorientated patients. It offered us the opportunity to treat our patients with individual respect whilst maintaining their dignity. This was soon to pay of in my case!!

One afternoon shortly afterwards, on a trip out to a local garden centre it was my job to accompany a wonderful, elderly lady by the name of Daisy. After an hour of admiring the rose and flower beds she needed to visit the ladies room. Due to unfamiliar surroundings she got into a muddle and locked herself in. I had no option but to climb over the top of the cubicle door to undo the lock for her. I will never forget her wrinkled smiling face peering up at me whilst announcing... "Thank you my dear, you really are an Angel Without Wings!! " It bought tears to my eyes. - Julia


Alice said...

Marion and Julia - thank you for this wonderful story. I have read the poem before, but Julia's description of her practical lesson added so much meaning. When you think about it, it's the simple things that can become the most confusing, and to know that nursing staff understand must be such a comfort to these dear folk.

Thank you again for your empathy.

It's a FLIP-FLOP World said...

Oh how sweet!! Those were the first words that i actually said outloud after reading both of your two's posts!! Thank you both for this great post!! It is so sad how the elderly are treated!! I am going to make a copy of this poem to keep. Thanks again..Sandy

Sara said...

What a poignant story! Tears are in my eyes too. I think about these things myself, wondering what my own future will be as an old woman....I guess we all do that at times. It is good to know that the needs of the elderly are being considered in nursing to treat people with the dignity we all deserve. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Britt-Arnhild said...

A beautiful story.

Will you believe that I have this poem translated into Norwegian, and the story that follows it is the same as the one you tell. I have used it alot when I give speeches.

Connie said...

Such a wonderful story that has stirred such deep feelings. Caretakers often lose sight that the elderly need to be respected and loved. Unfortunately I had to stick very close to my mother when she was very ill to make sure she was still treated with dignity.

Hope you are doing well my friend.

Barbara said...

A wonderful post Marion. So true. Had an elderly missionalry friend who was dying in an old people's home and the staff were amazed when they found out this old and sick slightly confused lady had been a missionary in India most of her life and was a nurse. It changed how they saw her.
There will be lots of Cotswold photos.

HORIZON said...

If you don't mind Marion, l'd like to pass this poem on to my daugher- she started her nursing degree last week- perhaps she will pass it around. Definately makes you think.
bests x
thank you

Kerri said...

It's a wonderful, thought provoking poem Marion, which I too have read before, but it's worth reading over and over. Julia's letter is a real treat to read.
Thanks for sharing both with us. They are a good lesson in compassion.

Willow said...

My father and father in law were both in care homes. My dear father in law HATED bridge/poker/card/board games. One day his daughter went to visit and found him "participating" in a game; he could neither tell the caregiver he hated the game nor remove himself from the room. At least my own father was ambulatory and able to tell staff his desires. The first lesson I learned in communicating with people in wheelchairs came when clerks would talk to me in the store about what my mom in the wheelchair wanted. I'd look at Mom and say, "Mom, what is it you want?" and she'd grin and answer. Thank you for your poignant reminder of every person's dignity and humanity.

Chris said...

I seem to have navigated my way to your blog simply by seeing your name:-) It occurs in my own family history and I was intrigued. To come across this poem is very timely as we have an aged parent living with us. It has bought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it.

Maggie said...

Thank you for the poem, and your daughter's words. I lost both my parents to dementia July and Sep this year. Dad still maintained a core of himself right to the end. Mum lost everything before the end.

I find the poem of some comfort, and hope you won't mind if I link to this entry some time over the next few weeks?

Best wishes from Liverpool