Wednesday 10 November 2010

poetry on ward 3

It's Mum's last full day in Hospital today. When I arrive, she smiles at me and asks: "Didn't you know I was in here?"

She doesn't remember my other visits. I take comfort from the thought that at least she knows she is in a Hospital today.

She is shaking again, though she tells me that she is warm. I know that tremors can be a sign of advancing dementia, but I suspect she is just nervous. My presence here is frightening because she knows that I will find her out, that I know her well enough to notice that something is wrong. For years she has been hiding a growing problem, with varying degrees of success, but she suspects that it's obvious now, that the task of hiding it is beyond her capabilities.

I try to get her to sit up, to face me, but she remains curled up on her left side, staring fixedly at the Nurses' Station just beyond the entrance to the ward. Whenever I say anything, her gaze flickers to me and then back. Her face is set in an anxious grimace. It's like she's waiting for something or someone to arrive. Not me.

The Consultant visits us, a young Canadian, and he is rewarded with her rapt attention. I take the opportunity to ask about her condition, about the tremors. There are no definitive answers. He is content for her to move on tomorrow.

I stroke her hand. She seems to like that. Soon her eyelids are drooping and she is asleep.

There are 3 other ladies in the room, having a conversation about favourite remembered poetry. The one who seems the most far gone into dementia keeps stating over and over that she loves "the one with the host of golden daffodils". The other two attempt to recall the words. When they progress to talking of their own favourites, the first lady brings them back to Wordsworth's "Daffodils".

After a few minutes of this, I get up quietly and visit the Nurses' Station to ask if I might access the internet. I google the poem, print it, and take it back to the ladies. They are thrilled to have someone do something for them. The first lady is unable to read, so I offer to recite it to the room. By the time I'm finished, all three are in tears.

I wish Mum had seen this. I know she would have been proud.

I was proud of myself. Not just for doing something nice for the ladies, but for keeping my voice steady whilst reading a line I had forgotten: "A poet could not but be gay..."


Lily said...

you are a lovely, lovely man x

accidental carer said...

I have been thinking about this since you posted it Greg and I agree with Lily.
I really wish for you that Mum remains safe and comfortable wherever she goes and that you can continue the fight to make sure that happens. warm wishes Trish x

Greg said...

Thank you, Lily and Trish.

Printing out that poem was such a little thing, but I could see it made a big difference to the ladies on the ward. Even though the Nurses' Station was only 20 feet away, they were left alone for the 2 hours I was there. No-one had the time to speak to them.

When I came back with the print-out, they were visibly stunned that someone was interacting with them. It probably cost the NHS a few pence (I offered to pay), but it gave those patients something to read and talk about and return to for the rest of the day.

This, as you know, is a topic that interests me in the Care Home as well - the disproportionately beneficial effect of simply engaging with residents. It's not enough to just offer them cups of tea and say "Are you alright?". That's not conversation. If you listen to what they're saying and respond normally, treating them as an adult and not talking down to them, a lot of them come alive in front of you.

Back on Ward 3, I wondered for a moment if I could make a career out of reciting poetry to old folks.

LSL said...

I've read this story so many times in my reader since the day you posted it. It did something to me to read it. Very beautiful, Greg.