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.