As well as school nursing I'm still dabbling in practice nursing once or twice a week. A few months ago Nellie, a sweet and cheerful ninety year old lady, started coming for regular dressings after she fell on a step and completely ripped her leg open. She was finding the morning appointments with my colleague easy to attend but at this particular surgery I only work evenings. Nellie didn't like coming out in the dark so I decided to pop into her house on my way home.

Nellie's dressings were straightforward and only took me about ten minutes but once I'd arrived and she started chatting I didn't have the heart just to rush in and out again. She didn't have children and her husband died quite a few years ago so she really didn't have many people to talk to. She did have a neighbour who Nellie described as 'an absolute scream' but she was in hospital due to have a hip replacement.

At first Nellie nattered to me generally asking if I had children, how long I've been a nurse, the kind of pleasant chit-chat that is often had with patients. As the weeks went on she started telling me about her life. Her dad had worked from home, before and after the war, making boots. She casually dropped in that he made boots for the Queen and that since her mum had the same tiny size 3 feet, she used to try them on before they were given to her. The boots he made were the pair the Queen wore for her Trooping the Colour! Her dad also worked on Spitfires in the war as he was considered too old to actually fight by then. Nellie would visit him at Biggin Hill and hang out with all the pilots. She told me slightly sheepishly that her dad had actually really enjoyed the war years from a career perspective as, after years of working on his own, he actually got to enjoy camaraderie with colleagues all working for the same cause.

This led to a conversation about growing up in the war and Nellie surprised me by saying that even though she was a young child and literally had bombs exploding outside her bedroom window she never felt fear. She said that everybody was so busy living their lives they didn't have time to worry about what might happen. This really surprised me. I've spoken to scores of people who lived in London during the Blitz and have never realised this. I assumed that if you lived with bombers flying overhead and air raid sirens blaring at any moment you must live in a constant state of frantic anxiety.

To keep my week varied I also run a drop in afternoon for older people and have asked them if they used to feel afraid in wartime London. They answered the same as Nellie, that no, they didn't have time to dwell on what might happen and get worried or down, they just wanted to live. This seems incredible to me and once again I find myself in awe of this generation.

During another evening visit I mentioned that Remie has ballroom and Latin dance classes. Nellie joyfully told me about her own dancing days that involved coach trips to Blackpool with all the women travelling up with rollers in their hair and how she had known Peggy Spencer, a big name in ballroom dancing. Apparently Peggy had hated Nellie's dance teacher who spent much more time at the bar than teaching his students! We got onto the subject that most of the country talks about this time of year - Strictly. Nellie got a bit heated talking about this and told me that the episode where the partners are revealed is a complete farce and the dancers and celebrities already know who they are teaming with. I don't know if this is true or not but Nellie was pretty adamant!

Three weeks ago Nellie had a fall at home and was treated in A&E. I saw her a few days later and she really wasn't herself. She was missing her independence and had lost confidence. It was sad to see such a drastic and quick change in her and, that day, rather than talk to me in her usual jolly way, she spoke about and showed me photos of her brother who died last year. I left that evening expecting to see her the following week but I got a message to say she'd had another fall and had been admitted to hospital. And then she was gone. Just a week after I last saw her she died. I was really sad that this happened so suddenly. She was ninety I know but she had been so positive and content until that last visit. I'm so glad I chose to treat her at home and have the privilege of being a part of her last days. I don't know who else knows her stories but I felt sharing them was the last thing I could do in her memory.


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