Wartime Survivor

After practice nursing for eleven years I was starting to feel like I needed a new challenge. I'd seen a real change since 2004, with the job becoming increasingly target-based, so I was keeping an eye out for something I thought would suit me. In January 2015 I stumbled across an organisation called Parish Nursing UK. I had no idea what it was so I arranged to spend a day with a local nurse who was already working in this field. Parish Nursing UK was set up in 2004 and is run through churches. Its aim is to complement work done by the NHS by providing holistic care, advocacy, signposting to other care providers and support to people of all faiths and none. I really liked the sound of it and the idea of spending time in a less hurried way with patients appealed to me greatly. 

It turned out that the same church that had recruited me to look after Ida in 1997 was looking for a senior care co-ordinator. They wanted someone to take care of the elderly in the church and those associated with it, providing home visits and support groups, accompanying people to appointments and organising a team of volunteers to help assist with transport and other support. I had already discussed this role with one of the ministers and, once I had discovered parish nursing, I asked if the two roles could be merged. This would mean that I could do the job the church needed, while keeping my nursing hours and registration up to date. The church leaders agreed that this would be a good idea and agreed for me to do the training. It was a three-day residential course in Birmingham, which provided training and insight into a totally different way of nursing to what I was used to. I came back very inspired and was excited about this new venture. 

Before I had started the job I had been warned about Flossie, a lady in her late nineties known for her demanding and difficult nature. People had told me they were interested to see how I found working with her and they seemed almost excited about the sparks that may fly. I arranged to visit Flossie at home who, despite her age, was still living on her own in a flat in a sheltered housing complex. I wasn't sure what to expect after hearing stories about her being awkward and impossible to please. When I arrived, her son who was visiting let me in. He was a quiet gentle man and introduced me to his mum. She looked at me and a broad smile spread across her cheeky face. It was like the moment I had met Birdie and I knew right then that I would love Flossie. 

She was a tiny lady - well under 5 foot - but similarly to Birdie had a little bit of flesh on her bones. Her hair was beautifully waved, as if she'd been styled for an old Hollywood film. I was astounded that she was only a few years away from her 100th birthday. She certainly hadn't lost her marbles, only her hearing. I spent the next hour talking to her about her needs and was glad I met her son early on. He lived abroad so I would be liaising with him a lot regarding her care so it was nice to put faces to names. He sat quietly trying to get a word in, while his mum spoke at great volume and length about what she would like from me. I also learned about her parents, her son, his wife, their children, her husband and how she had loved to play the piano and sing at church. She was a proper East End wartime survivor, my favourite kind of patient and although she was little, she had the spirit of a lion.

Like in all of my jobs before this one I was to meet many wonderful characters but I would spend much of my time with this feisty little lady. 

Another patient I grew fond of was Harriet, a waif of a lady who spent her days in flowing kaftans that must have been originals from the 1970s. She had a studio flat, in a gorgeous Art Deco building, with the smallest kitchen I have ever seen. I used to do her shopping and could literally only turn in a circle on the spot to put her groceries away. She was a sweet but sad soul as she was always in pain from osteoporosis and some days she couldn't get out of bed. She seemed to brighten during visits though and would talk to me about her past. One day she told me about when she moved into a house in a nearby road and as she was describing it, it sounded very familar to me. I asked her the address and was surprised that it was now the house of one of my best friends Ellie. Harriet found this fascinating and was interested to find out how the house looked now. I would have loved to have taken her to see it but there was never a day when she felt well enough to leave her flat.

I also helped care for a couple Pearl and Laurie, who had recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. She was such a gentle lady who was very unsteady on her feet. Laurie was a completely doting husband who took loving care of her despite being registered blind. It used to break my heart watching him try to read with a special eyeglass resting on the paper at the end of his nose. He was fabulously stylish with pure white hair still coiffed how he must have done in the 1940s. He often wore light coloured linen suits which made him endearingly known by some as 'The Man from Del Monte'. They went everywhere together, even to her hair salon, where he would drop her off and then shuffle over the road to do a little bit of shopping while he waited. In their younger days Pearl and Laurie used to run a coffee morning but had to find people to help with this once their health declined. They still attended it however, and even though Laurie had such difficulty seeing, he still wrote a quiz for this little gathering each week. I was amazed by this and am sure it was part of the reason he was still so mentally sharp.

I knew this new role would be completely different to any I'd had before. And as is always the way in nursing I was to have many experiences and learn lessons that I wouldn't forget.


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