The following poem was among the possessions of an aged lady who died in the geriatric ward of a hospital. There is no information available as to her name, when she died or who she was. It is so appropriate for all nursing personnel, families, volunteers and all who come in contact with the elderly to read. At times we all lose patience with the elderly. This should help us to have more sympathy and understanding of all residents.

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An anonymous poem

What do you see, nurse, what do you see,
what are you thinking when you’re looking at me?
A crabbit 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 use 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 around 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, nurse, open and see,
not a crabbit old woman; look closer – see ME!!

And a Nurse’s response:

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 with you and talk, To bath you and feed you and help you to walk. To hear about your lives and the things you have done; Your childhood, your husband, your daughter, 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 so few of us.

Below is an extract from Amanda Waring’s powerful award-winning short film, “What Do You See? starring Virginia McKenna who voices the patient.

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