Monday, February 7, 2011


The second night was not good. Some time during the day, the middle bed had been filled by an 82 year old peasant woman. Her frail body was badly bruised. Her legs and the backs of her hands had raised, bloody flesh, as though it had been snagged on barbed wire, and the raw tufts left to dry, like crimson stuffing poking out of her knuckles. It distressed me to see her. But what was much worse was the treatment she received from her sister and niece, whose frustration at not being able to help had manifested into anger, impatience and violence. Their only communication was Neanderthal. As in many villages, they shouted at each other, a constant barrage of loud, sharp, monotone instructions: “Leave it. Don’t touch it, Be quiet, Keep still, Holy Mother, Leave it….” Plus profanities that are the same in all languages. And so it went on and on in a round of speech that was answered by the almost unconscious calls of, “Oooh, it hurts, my hands, it hurts…” The oxygen mask, which kept slipping off the poor lady’s face, was a constant cause for concern. The main problem seemed to be that the piece of elastic which was threaded into holes at each side of the mask kept coming away. The niece had not grasped the idea that if she did not put an anchoring knot at the back of each hole, then when she fixed the elastic around her aunt’s head, it stretched so far that the end simply slid away again. Finally a nurse came. She shouted at her patient just as harshly as her relatives were doing, but made a better job of the mask. The word bedlam came to mind as the whole scene developed into some sort of macabre reality, which, if it had not been a reality would have been funny. Finally the niece left. Another Bulgarian woman arrived to attend to the lady in the end bed. This one was not as lucky as the one on the previous night, as she had to sleep on a chair.

My eyes were causing me some problems and they were so sensitive to the light that I had to wear my sunglasses. My instructions were to lay as still as possible until my dizziness had passed. It was an impossible request. When all the visitors had gone a nurse came to switch of the main light, it was a relief. My comfort did not last. The peasant woman turned the light back on, and keeping up their hatred of peace and quiet, the two sisters continued to bicker at each other in a very loud and vituperative manner. The oxygen mask came dislodged again, and in her delirium the patient began trying to remove her drip feed which was heavily taped to her wrist. Her minder, the old, black clad village woman, rushed to her bedside, slapped her across the face, and putting her hands around her ears, began to shake her and shout at her. It was more than I could bear. I jumped out of bed and told her to stop it at once. “Sit down,” I commanded, and marched over to the light and switched it off. To complaints of, “It’s too dark,” I put the small light on over the middle bed, saying: “It is time for sleep,” in as authoritative sounding voice as I could. The woman with the stick sat down, mumbling. I got back into bed. One second later I was up again stopping the old woman with the stick from landing a blow on her miserable sister. A man from the corridor who had been sitting at the death bed of the next terminal patient, rushed in and gave his two penneth, closely followed by a nurse who, obviously overworked and at the end of her patience, stormed in, added her shouting to the cacophony of language, and proceeded to tie the sore, painfully damaged hands of the bedridden woman, to the rails of her cot sides.

The barbaric treatment of this poor woman reduced me to tears. A dirty cloth screen was put between me and the next bed, in the words of the nurse, “…so you will not see.” But I could hear, and was very distressed at the pitiful moans for help and the words, “Oh my hands, help me,” being repeated over and over until I fell asleep. The lady in the far bed, trying to deal with her own pain, was also distressed, and the next day her family spoke to whoever was in charge. The result was that the Neanderthal mountain woman never came again. The niece returned in a much quieter state than before bringing sweets and buns as pacifiers for me and the other lady. It was an episode I will never forget.

The third night was not good. Now it was the turn of the lady in the far bed to be in pain… (To be continued)

1 comment:

Jude said...

Oh dear's horrid isn't it?? I spent many years nursing the aged...sounds all too familiar, the argueing between relatives, the poor old folk that spend their last days confused and miserable not knowing what's going on..It's awful to watch and is very distressing, especially when you're not well yourself...The staff are just as bad...I hope your are feeling much better..