Let’s Play Doctors And Nurses


I’m writing this post with a bit of toilet paper hanging out of my ear. I don’t normally write posts in this way, it’s not really my style, but today is different because I’ve got an ear infection and I’m self-medicating with antibiotic ear drops that I prescribed for myself. Why am I self-medicating? The answer is simple, I don’t yet have a doctor here in Indonesia, I am in a lot of pain but I know just enough about pharmaceutical drugs and their effects, that I can get pretty much all that I want/need over the counter here without a doc prescription…dangerous eh?

(This photo really needs no explanation other than it gives me a chance to tell you all about my 7 inch scar that runs from my ear, down the side of my face, under my chin and up to the corner of my mouth. I  went through the windshield when I was 17, ripped my ear off, opened up half my face and nearly lost my sight in one eye. You can still feel the embedded glass in my cheek. A boyfriend once said to me ‘With that much Renault 5 in your face Lottie, it must now make you half-french!)

Years ago I was a nurse. Not a real nurse because I was far too idle at school to be bothered re-take  math’s and the sciences that I would need if I wished to train properly. I think I got one mark for spelling my name correctly in the Math’s paper, and the Biology exam was an unmitigated disaster because I ate the mushroom that was on the desk, before I realised that we were supposed to cut it in half, then draw and name the various parts of. In the weeks prior to the Biology exam I had read up on everything to do with sexual reproduction that I could find. By the time the day of the exam came round, there wasn’t a part of a penis inside or out that I couldn’t have named or drawn , and I was pretty au-fait with all my bits too. Imagine then how crestfallen I was when I discovered that the only thing that I had bothered to revise, and had been praying that there would be a question on, was missing from the examination paper. My efforts and hard-work  learning so much about sexual re-production were not, I am happy to say wasted, as I turned the theory into practice and then went on to have 5 children.

If you have been following this blog, you will already know that after leaving school I was offered a place at a prestigious art school in London. Being the complete eejit that I was at the time I turned it down (if you haven’t been following this blog and now have a burning desire to find out about it, you can find the story on my post called Pollux and Castor Part One and Part two).  Rather than following a creative path that may well have lead to some interesting job opportunities, I chose sexual re-production as my career for the first few years of my marriage. After a while, much as I loved my Leonora, my first child, I was getting mightily bored of picking up Lego and fishing half-eaten jam sandwiches out of the video and I realized I might very well go mad if I didn’t get myself some sort of a job. My Mother had always told me that I’d make a good nurse (the careers advisor at school told me I’d make a great hotel receptionist, the BITCH!)  One day whilst sitting down with a cup of tea, exhausted after a mornings worth of chores and nappy changes, I spotted an advert in the newspaper for Nursing Auxiliaries at the local hospital.

There were two jobs going; one was to work in the operating theatre alongside a dashing, handsome young surgeon (it didn’t actually say that of course but my imagination already had me fully gowned-up, right next to him, attentive to his every need, and smiling at him as I passed the shiny scalpel from my latexed gloved hands into his)  the other, was to help out in the acute geriatric ward. I applied for both jobs and prayed that I’d get the first. As luck would have it, I didn’t and so that’s why 6 weeks later I was scooping shit out of furry slippers, wiping bottoms, putting catheters on to strangers willies, confusing all the patients by handing out the wrong sets of false teeth in the mornings and changing and making more beds, than you’ve had hot dinners.

The first job that I was asked to do, was to administer a suppository to the lady in bed 14. I was rather hoping that my first task would be something a little less invasive like cleaning out bedpans but I was keen to show willing so went off to find a trolley and put together all the things that I would need for the job. KY jelly, latex gloves, a washing bowl, soap…etc.

After introducing myself to the lady and drawing the curtains around her bed, I explained what I was going to be doing. I checked the name label on the patient to make extra sure that I would be sticking the suppository up the right persons bottom and put on my latex gloves. She was quite a large woman, massive in fact, so getting her to roll onto her side was hard enough work, but not nearly as hard work as my trying to locate her anus. Nothing in this world could have prepared me for what greeted me when, with KY jelly in one hand and suppository in the other I bent down to prepare for my first ever nursing task. This lady had hemorrhoids, the worst I believe in the world, they were like an enormous bunch of grapes totally obliterating her arsehole. The more nervous I became, the more clumsy my probing attempts became until, after a good 5 minutes I had to give up for fear of doing the poor woman damage, and to give myself some much needed fresh air. I explained to the lady that I needed some help and went off to find a nurse to help me. Just outside the ward there were 6 nurses, huddled together with tears pouring down their cheeks and nearly choking with laughter. I think as initiations go, this must have been one of the meanest and cruelest ever!

Those days spent working on the geriatric ward, were some of the best of my life. I loved my nursing job and couldn’t wait for my next shift to come round and no amount of shit, or hemorrhoids could put me off. I’d telephone my Mother and tell her all about everything I’d done and she’d say ‘Lottie, I don’t know how you can deal with it all, you must really love it to be able to do all those mucky jobs for such little pay’ and if I had a bad day, she’d console me and make me laugh.

I’d put on my uniform, pin one of those funky up-side down watches onto my bosom, scrape my hair back into a jaunty ponytail and put my hat on. It was hard work but boy did I learn a lot. One of the pleasures of not being a real nurse and having to deal with all the responsibility and paper work that there is  to do, is to be able to spend time not just caring, but talking with the patients.

Because of the nature of my job, I was dealing with elderly, very sick and often terminally ill people. I witnessed some terrible sights such as the agony and pain endured by someone having a heart attack, the frustrations and tears of a stroke victim unable to feed themselves. The loneliness of the patients who had no family or friends ever visit them, the grief of a relative on losing a much loved parent, sibling or spouse.

I met some extraordinary characters, some good and some bad. I was sometimes hit at, spat at, and cursed.  But also I was loved, and cuddled by those that needed to be held, who needed the warmth of human touch.  One of the men I looked after was called Emeric. He was very frail and poorly but he had a twinkle in his eye and a wonderful humour. I used to help him wash everyday, shave him, make sure his hands and nails were clean, and all the other tasks that he was unable to do for himself. I’d sit on his bed with the daily menu and we’d both laugh as I tried to describe the grey slops rather more imaginatively so as to make them seem more appetizing, and when meal times came around, I’d make sure that he’d tried to eat something rather than push the food away which is what all elderly, sick patients are inclined to do. I told him stories, I sang to him, and sometimes I would dance around his bed and make him laugh and he’d say in his wonderful Hungarian accent ‘Vy are you, Zo Zuggestive Lottie?’ and I’d giggle and he’d wink at me. I looked after everyone with the same care and attention, but I always gave a bit of extra time to those that had few or no visitors. One day when I arrived for my early shift, there was a blue plastic bag on the end of Emerics empty bed. I’d witnessed a few actual deaths on the ward, and I’d often seen the blue bags out, but I felt especially sad that day and when my husband got home that evening I told him about Emeric. The following day Emeric’s demise was headline news. It was only when he died, that I discovered just how famous he was. If you know anything about films, then you will have heard of Emeric Pressburger the screenwriter, film director and producer.

I had to leave my nursing job when the time came that I could no longer hide my rapidly growing bump from the  NHS. I learnt so much from my time working as a nurse, and  there are many times over the years when those experiences have helped me deal with events in my own life. Little did I know then as a 22 year old, dancing and singing around Emeric’s bed, that a couple of years later I would be holding my own Mother’s hand as she lay dying in a hospital bed. Just before losing all consciousness from the morphine being pumped into her, she asked me to brush her hair. It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do.

23 Comments

    1. I’m glad that it made you laugh Amit, but sorry if I made you cry. It bought back a lot of memories writing it so I’ve got to confess that I had a weep too.

      Have a wonderful time in Canada and I’m here waiting for you when you return to Bali 🙂 xo

      Like

  1. Your post had me smiling, laughing, touched and moved. What a wonderful and amazing life you’re having, dear Lottie.

    I’ve never been a nurse in any capacity, but when my brother fell ill I became his caregiver. It was the most difficult and the most rewarding experience of my life. Not everyone can handle being there for the passing on of those we love or even for those we don’t know at all. It takes a special courage, Sister.

    Ear infections are completely miserable! I hope your educated-self-medicating improves your health ASAP. xoxo

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    1. The ear drops are working brilliantly which is a big relief because I was in agony. You are right Sister, ear infections are completely miserable. I think all this air travel every week is playing havoc on the aural side of my life! haha!

      One of the things about getting on a bit is that you can look back on your life and reflect on everything that you’ve done/acheived/fucked up /wasted/made a shambles of etc etc and try to make some sense of it all. I’ve had my fair share of ‘downs’, but I’ve also had an extra-ordinary amount of ‘ups’

      One of my darling Ma’s favourite lines was ‘it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry’ and she was right. The more that you do with your life, the richer it becomes. My experience working on the acute geriatric ward would not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s hardly glamourous but, it taught me so much about life and human nature and the need for understanding others. How ever bolshy some of the patients were I made it my mantra ‘look after these patients, as you would want someone to look after you if you were in the same situation’. In a nutshell, it taught me empathy.

      Likewise, my car accident and my Mother’s demise at far too young an age taught me the most valuable lessons of my life. Since then, I have never taken anything for granted, and I’ve learnt that you have to work for your rewards and by that I don’t mean monetary, I mean in the sense that what you give out by living as kind and a productive a life as you possibly can, you will be rewarded in ways that you could never have expected and meet some wonderful people along the way.

      Time to go back to bed. It’s 3.30am. I woke up to have a wee and instead of going back to bed, found myself walking zombie-like over to my computer, playing on facebook, sending emails and then when I saw that you had left a comment, it was a no-brainer, I had to send you a reply, you are my sister 🙂 xxoo

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  2. Holding mums hands, brushing her hair in her last hours were hard privileges, but one thing she said still saddens my heart.
    She knew she was dying and she said “oh, the conversations we still need to have, so much to say”.
    I reassured her that there was nothing more we needed to say than that we loved one another.

    Oh how naive and wrong i was, there is not a day goes by that i don’t miss having my mum to discuss the
    delights and despairs of life with
    And the older i get, and the more time that passes, does not make it easier, the pain is softer, yes, but the gap, the position of “mother” can not be filled by anything or anyone else.
    I have ologies, and have had prestigious jobs but if i achieve half the job description of “mother” i will be pleased.

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    1. I remembered when I was studying at Birkbeck and was nurturing dreams of someday becoming a psychotherapist. We were taught about ‘the good enough Mother’ something that came from D.W Winnicot, the English Paediatrician and child psychoanalyst. I found his words very comforting, it’s ok to be good enough as a Mother, you don’t have to be perfect.

      I’ve been looking at Mother quotes and yes, there are more than enough cheesy ones but there are some corkers too

      My mother loved children – she would have given anything if I had been one.
      Groucho Marx
      Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/mother.html#AQICoft7cRdeTs4x.99

      Women have always been the strong ones of the world. The men are always seeking from women a little pillow to put their heads down on. They are always longing for the mother who held them as infants.
      Coco Chanel
      Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/mother.html#AQICoft7cRdeTs4x.99

      A mother takes twenty years to make a man of her boy, and another woman makes a fool of him in twenty minutes.
      Robert Frost
      Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/mother.html#AQICoft7cRdeTs4x.99

      My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.
      Pablo Picasso
      Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/mother.html#AQICoft7cRdeTs4x.99

      There are so many but I particularly love these! and B, thank you for your comment. Here is a big hug xxoo

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  3. Very interesting post. I also did care work for a while, although I can’t say I have too many fond memories of it. I just remember the 12 hour shifts where you ended up too tired to know or care what was going on.
    And I can identify with the hopeless career teachers; mine told me I should be a barmaid.

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  4. Thanks Sarah, it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who had a bitch career advisor. At least yours told you that you could be a barmaid, mine already had me imprisoned behind the desk of a Days Inn on the M1

    I was lucky, I didn’t have such long shifts. 12 hours is a long time to do such back-breaking work, it’s no wonder that you ended up so tired.

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  5. Great post Lottie!

    What a great experience to meet Emeric Pressburg, He is an Oscar winner for the 49th Parallel. I have seen the film in the past with my grandmother (many years ago) It was a good film and used as propaganda to bring the US into WWII. I can see how it could be very disheartening looking after someone that, seemed so sharp still, and having them pass.

    Aaron

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    1. Aaron, I’m so glad you recognise the name, he was a very special man.

      Even though I knew nothing about him whilst I cared for him in hospital, he had one of those very charismatic personalities that you couldn’t help but be touched by.

      He made lots of films as you know, and was highly regarded in his field. When I was working in the hospital I became quite close to certain patients because we shared the same humour, or we just had the right chemistry, Emeric was one of them.

      It saddened me that he never had any visitors (well certainly no one ever came to see him when I was on a shift) and after he died I thought, how weird – someone who has given the world of cinema so much, been such a creative genius, and is so highly regarded, never had anyone bother to visit him in hospital yet the moment he died, the papers and tv where full of his life and all that he acheived. It certainly made me think about old age in a different way.

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  6. Lottie — this is a very moving post and it’s quite poignant. Of course, your humour came through to save me from turning into a total sook while reading this. And, indeed, a sook is what I’ve become, interestingly enough, after becoming a mother. Damn hormones and extra emotions. (However, I can also relate to picking up endless amounts of Legos and eating the crusts and whatever else is left of the jam sandwiches — rather, peanut butter in may case.)

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    1. Steph, I have to confess that I’d never heard the expression sook before so I had to look it up! Great word!

      I think it’s not just the hormones that makes you weepy, it’s the fact that looking after young children is exhausting and let’s face it, when you are tired anything can turn you in to a jibbering wreck, certainly that’s the case for me!

      Thanks for your comment, it’s always appreciated 🙂

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      1. The whole sook thing is interesting because I had never heard that word until I lived in Australia for a year in 2010. I assumed it was something borrowed from British slang. I love how language works!

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  7. Me too. Have you read Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue? I’ll see if I can sneak sook into one of my posts some time, I like it a lot! I’ve got a few new ones like ‘appurtenances’ that I discovered the other day, I can’t wait to use it but the time has got to be right!!

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  8. Lottie, I’m smiling and teary reading your post. Smiling, at the adventure you’ve had and the love and energy that you gave your patients – wonderful. Teary, as my mum died a few years ago and I wasn’t with her. She was also a nurse and loved her job.

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    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your Mum, and totally understand your sadness that you could not be there with her at the end. It’s so difficult I know especially if you are living far away, or, it happens unexpectantly. My Dad did know that my Mum only had hours to live, but he couldn’t bear it so he went home leaving my brother and I look after her which was very difficult for me to understand at the time. Thank you for your comment and here is a big fat squeeze and hug from me xo

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  9. I loved this post, Lottie. This was a new one for me (I hadn’t seen it, apparently, when it first came out, or else we hadn’t yet become friends). This is what my husband does – caring for the terminally ill. I’ve always said, someone has to do it, and it had better be someone who WANTS to do it. God bless you. He, too, will find humor in certain situations, usually the most painful ones, because you simply have to. Thank you xoxo

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    1. You do have to, otherwise it would be too awful to bear. It was a steep learning curve that time but I’m so glad that I had the opportunity. I think it had a profound effect (affect?) (I’m never sure which word is correct?!) on me. Really made me think about old age, illness and how ultimately we are all so vulnerable. Thanks for your lovely comment, Martha xoxox

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  10. That was the initiation from Hell, Lottie. You are a better woman than I…well, if I were a woman…to make it through that. It is sad that you were training for the care you would give your mother, but I am sure that training was a godsend during her decline.
    You have really led quite a full and interesting life already and, I am sure, this new adventure in Spain is another exciting chapter. 🙂
    Like Martha above, I don’t think we were friends yet when this was first published. I am glad you are “reissuing” some of your greatest hits. 😀

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    1. Puff, I’m really tickled that you’ve enjoyed this post, thank you! It seems an age now since I wrote it, and feels like a lifetime since I tended to the wonderful Emeric. I remember he had such sparkly eyes and such a great wit, it was so sad when he died but I feel blessed to have met him xxx

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