Blue Girl

It was always strange preparing a room for a new resident as it meant that another one had left, usually because they had died. Even though the actual slip away from this life was peaceful for these elderly people and was a release from their terminal illnesses, it was always sad. We had to continue caring for the remaining residents, of course, and any new ones. We once admitted a man who wasn’t with us long because he died by, let’s just say, giving himself a good time. The excitement just proved too much for him! I particularly remember the day when we admitted a very tall, broad-shouldered man with a heavy Scottish accent. He had neat white hair and thick glasses with classic black frames. He had a booming voice and when we met him he proudly announced that he was 'Alasdair Ballantyne Dunwoody' as if he was some great celebrity or aristocrat. He always sat very upright in his armchair with his arms folded across his chest, and when he wanted something you could hear him from almost any room in the home! He had a penchant for anything Louis Vuitton and used to tell us about his favourite suits and clothes. He always pronounced the designer’s name in a French accent which caused us great amusement. He also liked to sing ‘Ta ra ra boom de ay, this is my wedding day!' at the top of his voice, regardless of any other poor residents in the lounge.

My sister Charlotte (the one who now knows about me treading in a human cow pat while wearing her shoes) spent some time at the home for work experience. For the life of me I can’t work out why, as this is someone who once fainted at the sight of a small cut on her own finger and collapsed into an empty bath next to her! I’m pretty sure nursing wasn’t on her agenda. She does, however, have the same affection for the elderly that I do and, along with her husband, proved to be an outstanding neighbour to the man next door to them. He lived into his late nineties and I truly believe that he would never have reached this age without their constant kindness and support. I guess this nature is what led her to work experience in a hospice. Anyway, I arranged for her to work a few shifts with me and one evening, while she was helping me put Alasdair to bed, I realised his catheter was leaking and needed replacing. I did this with Charlotte watching and I think seeing this procedure on an old man is what steered her away from healthcare and into architecture! Once he was clean and comfortable in bed I told Charlotte that to settle him at night we usually danced around his room singing Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay, which of course we didn’t. She believed me though and did as I’d instructed, skipping and clapping around his room belting this song out. Well, Alasdair thought all his birthdays had come at once and heartily joined in, singing and clapping from his bed. This created so much commotion that Kathy, one of the senior care assistants, burst into the room to find out what on earth was happening! Again, sorry Charlotte.

One of Charlotte’s favourite patients was Mavis, a sweet, adorable little lady who spent most of her time quietly in bed. She was one of the dementia residents and liked the idea of stealing things from the nursing home. She told us one night that she loved the blanket on her bed and paused to feel its detail with her frail hands. She looked up at us and said ‘I’m going to pinch it! I really like it’. We didn’t have the heart to say it was her own blanket and assured her that we wouldn’t tell anyone.

It amazes me how vivid the effects of dementia can be in someone’s mind. People are absolutely convinced of things that are in no way a reality. Very late one night, Ernie called me into his room in quite an alarmed state. He informed me that there were two men in Wickford who were after him and that there was a shotgun under his bed. He asked me to get this shotgun and help him hunt them down! I could never piece together why he had thought this and didn’t think it would be wise to ask his wife if he’d ever tried to shoot any men in Wickford.

About a year after I’d left my job at the home, Kathy kindly phoned me to let me know that Birdie had died. I went to her funeral with a couple of the other staff, along with Birdie's immediate family. It was a tiny funeral and I didn’t recognise her son, which sadly highlighted the lack of visits she’d had in the home. I was fascinated to hear stories of her young life and learnt that she’d worked in a sweet factory when food was still rationed. She used to make up little bags of sweets for her children and secretly take them home with her. Her habit of rummaging through handbags looking for sweets made sense to me now. What I’ll never know is why she used to make such a fuss at bath time because the vicar told us that she used to jump off the end of Brighton pier and swim back to shore. She obviously loved water then and I wonder if a past bad experience is what caused her to panic in her late stages of dementia.

Alasdair always referred to me as ‘Blue Girl’. I’m guessing because he associated blue uniforms with nurses. One quiet afternoon, while the residents were sitting in the lounge, he hollered in his thick Scottish accent ‘Blue Girl, I would like you to oil my prick please!’. With the volume of his voice, there was no hiding what he’d just asked but I had no idea what he meant! I took him into the bathroom to check his catheter was in place and working, which it was, and eventually his request of ‘oiling’ diminished. Until another quiet afternoon when his wife was visiting. She was the complete opposite of Alasdair, a tiny lady with a very soft voice. I was working with one of the other senior carers, Laura, on this day. Again he yelled out ‘Blue Girl, I would like you to oil my prick please’. His wife was surprisingly unfazed by his request and when we didn’t immediately go over and give Alasdair a good oiling she approached us and asked us herself, ‘Could you oil Alasdair’s prick?’. Laura asked if she wouldn’t call it that please as she found it offensive, and his wife replied in her gently lilting, quiet Scottish voice, ‘But he would like it to be oiled’!!!

Halfway through my year working at this hospice, I’d got married (to Dan, the boyfriend who’d come with me to my interview at Kings, five years before). By the end of the year, the twelve or fourteen hour day and night shifts meant that I wasn’t home much and was barely spending time with my new husband. I will always be so grateful to the hospice for teaching me how to work autonomously, for teaching me when to get a Dr involved or call an ambulance, how to build relationships with patients' families and, most of all, how to work as part of a team. However, I was still keen on the idea of practice nursing and came across an advert in the paper. I applied on the off chance, expecting them to turn down such an inexperienced young nurse immediately. To my astonishment, they offered me the job that was to shape the next fifteen years of my career. Thankfully, I never did find out what Alasdair wanted me to do with the oil.


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