During most of the semesters during my tenure as a nursing instructor, I read a poem to my students. It was written by a woman who died alone in the geriatric ward of a small hospital in Scotland. The poem is easy to find on the internet. My purpose for reading it to my young 20-something students was to attempt to heighten their sensitivity to the patients they’d be caring for – especially the elderly and the frail. Here is the poem:
What do you see, nurses, what do you see? / What are you thinking when you're looking at me? A crabby old woman, not very wise, / Uncertain of habit, with faraway 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 do at your bidding, as I 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 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 guide and a secure happy home. / A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast, /Bound to each other with ties that should last. / At forty, my young sons have grown and are 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 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 rearing young of their own,/ and I think of the years and the love that I've known. / I'm now an old woman ...and nature is cruel; /'Tis jest to make old age look like a fool. The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,/ There is now 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, nurses, open and see,/ Not a crabby old woman; look closer ...see ME!!
This surely is something 20-somethings should learn. And it wouldn't hurt those in their 50s to learn it, either. I meet some of your parent(s) each week at the 55+ and memory care centers where I minister.