Why We Should All Walk the Brightest Path…

We should all be able to feel safe this Christmas, in all four corners of the world..

This morning we took an early morning walk. The sun had just come up but there was a chill in the air making us hope we have a cold, crisp Christmas .

As we wound our way round the village and walked back up the hill toward the woods behind Dove Lane, the path beneath our feet sparkled in the winter sun. Looking more closely, I could see there were hundreds of glass chips embedded in the tarmac. I had never noticed this before; maybe it was the direction of the sun or the time of day, but the effect was magical. The path glittered like something out of a fairy tale and I half expected to be transported to a different land – maybe if I had wished hard enough I may have seen one of Santa’s elves peaking out from behind one of the trees! I thought about the beauty that surrounds us whoever we are and whatever our circumstances; rich or poor, we are all entitled to walk along a glittery pathway.

We are all created as equals. Sometimes it is easy to forget that. I certainly do. I think most of us, at some time in our lives, have looked up at someone we see as more famous, wealthy or seemingly more accomplished than ourselves and felt a little overshadowed. It is a habit that is hard to shake off. But we all have our skills, our own uniqueness that no-one can take away. We can all have a chance to shine and take a walk along a special path. There are so many unsung heroes we may pass along the way; those who carry on in the most dire circumstances, and still raise a smile.

This time of year, as I rush around crossing things off my long Christmas ‘to do’ list I often stop in my tracks and remember to be grateful. There are so many people without a roof over their heads, both in our country and in foreign lands. So many innocent children caught up in wars that have absolutely nothing to do with them apart from raging in the lands they happen to be born in. How can this be? The contrast between different lives is sometimes overwhelming.

One day, I hope there will be a world where every child, indeed every human being, has a home where they feel safe and secure at Christmas and all through the year – a place where they can stop and look out through the window at the moon and stars, and feel at peace.

I sat drinking a hot chocolate with a friend today and we talked about life; how things sometime surprise us and turn out differently than expected. How sometimes it’s hard to take the rough with the smooth. How busy life can be at times. But would we really want to walk in anyone else’s shoes, however important they are?

I love this Malagasy proverb –

‘ A canoe does not know who is King, when it turns over, everyone gets wet.’

I hope you can walk the glittery Christmas path today.

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Keep Quiet or the Nurse is in Trouble…

The importance of keeping things tidy….

A bit of light relief this week.

I trained as a nurse in the seventies. I had long dreamed of fancy uniforms, handsome doctors and wiping fevered brows. I encountered all of these in various degrees but soon came to realise that there was a lot of hard work and long hours involved. The three years of training were often hard and many times I was tempted to give up. Had my school careers officer been right when he felt the best thing for me was to work at the local shirt factory back in my home town? Spurred on by the thought of an alternative life running up cuffs, collars and shirt tails, I kept going and I look back on my nursing career mostly with great affection. I can still remember some of my patients to this day, and the sadness and humour encountered along the way. I find too, that I have a pool of experience to work from which has helped me hugely with my writing career. Compassion and kindness, to me, are the foremost requirements for a good nurse, along with a calm exterior, but this calm exterior can crumble on the odd occasion….

I had been a student nurse for about six months and was gradually getting used to the unsociable hours, the baffling orders barked from the end of the ward and the mysterious terminology. A rigid routine emerged and seemed to supersede any eventuality. Ward work had to go on – always, and no matter what lurked behing the patient’s curtains. Soon I couldn’t imagine doing anything else but working within the hospital walls. Time off was limited and a social life was virtually non existent. But what made up for all the strict protocol was the patients themselves. People from all walks of life – rich or poor, young or old, famous or unknown, in various circumstances, all together under one roof, all on a level playing field if you like, and all experiencing the challenges that illness brings.

It is a fact of human nature that when we are up against it we show our courage – courage we didn’t know we had, and sometimes in the darkest of situations we find some humour….

One ward I worked on was run like clockwork by an absolutely terrifying Ward Sister who had everyone, even the most senior doctors, quaking in their boots. She was tall, thin as a rake, had tightly permed hair and steel rimmed spectacles. I could not imagine her wearing anything but her pristine uniform and nor could I imagine her ever partaking in anything that required a modicum of fun. She only spoke to juniors like me when barking orders, the rest of the time we were required to flatten ourselves against the wall and be as inconspicuous as possible when she swept past us with her usual  imperious look in place.  She could convey her displeasure with the merest lift of an eyebrow as she viewed the overall tidiness of her ward  – any stray newspaper or wrapper on a locker would be pounced on and woe betide the nurse who was remiss. One couldn’t doubt her dedication or the way her ward was run, however, and although the patients were totally in awe of her she was regarded with the utmost respect. Patient care was second to none and often she was still on her ward checking all was well long after her shift had ended.

One week we had a particularly rambunctious group of men on the ward – it was a men’s orthopaedic ward so usually they weren’t actually ill but perhaps recovering from operations or fractures. They usually got on well together and were often swapping lewd stories or jokes and the ambulant ones were often to be found playing cards in the day room. We had trouble keeping them under control at times but they soon learned to quieten down when Sister was around. We loved spending time chatting to these patients when we had the chance as they brought some normality to the ward and provided some light relief to the somewhat stifling atmosphere. One particular guy who I will call Jimmy had been on the ward for several weeks and became a great ally. He’d help with the tea trolley in the mornings and was allowed certain privileges. He also was good at helping the new patients settle in and he could be relied upon to keep an eye out for Sister and letting us know if she was on the warpath.

Tuesday morning at 11 am was always the Consultation’s ward round  – this was particularly stressful if you were on duty as just being in the vicinity was nerve racking. You just prayed you weren’t asked a question you didn’t know the answer to or sent to look for something you couldn’t find and were made to look embarrassed in front of the whole team. On the exact stroke of 11 Sister would unlock the trolley bearing the patients notes and stand poised and ready for the off. The consultant would sweep in followed by a group of hapless looking medical students struggling to keep up. The group would slowly make the way round the ward, going from bed to bed – the Consultant firing questions both at the nervous patients in the beds and the quivering students who tended to be rendered speachless when asked even the simplest question about a patient’s condition. Sister, as usual was calm and collected and kept all running smoothly.

On particular Tuesday I was standing in my usual flattened position against the wall watching the round take place when I noticed to my horror that somehow a new patient unaware of ward protocol had unpacked some sandwiches he had brought in from home and had laid out a veritable picnic on his bed, complete with a napkin. He was also nonchalantly reading the newspaper whilst enjoying his sandwich at the same time. From my position by the wall I edged slowly down the Ward so as not to attract attention until I caught Jimmy’s eye. No words were needed. There was just a shocked look in Jimmy’s eyes followed by a slight twitch and slight loss of colour in his face. I can still see in my mind’s eye what happened next. In his boldly stripped standard issue hospital dressing gown, Jimmy somehow managed to move stealthy up the ward until he disappeared under the end bed. Slowly sliding along underneath, bed by bed, and keeping his stiff leg somehow angled to a safe position he kept going until he was level with Freddy, the new patient. A stripey arm appeared on the bed, feeling around for the sandwiches, and slowly both the napkin and the sandwiches disappeared from view. Freddy, realising his tasty snack was missing, peered out from behind his paper. Jimmy’s head appeared over the side of the bed.

    “Fold your paper up mate and forget about your sandwiches quick as you like” whispered Jimmy from the corner of his mouth. “Stay where you are and say nothing!” With that, he ducked down again and slithered back down the ward. Luckily, the ward round was particularly slow on the day and the team had been seemingly unaware of the unusual actions of some of the patients! Freddy stayed like a statue for the rest of the ward round, even struggling to answer the Consultant when he asked him how he was.

The Consultant finished his round and went to have his customary cup of tea in Sister’s office and the lowly students ambled off, relieved it was over. I went to check on Jimmy, worried that his escapade may have set his recovery back a bit, but he was full of laughter.

The day carried on at its usual busy pace and all seemed in order. Sister came over to me at the end of the shift to dismiss me.

   “You may go now Nurse. Make sure you dispose of those sandwiches on the way out”.

Maybe she was human after all.

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