Thursday, 15 December 2016

Christmas 1985

Christmas week 1985 I was  shadowing a community psychiatric nursing sister with her caseload in the deprived and depressing northern town of Runcorn.
Through a succession of faceless maisonettes, we sat on grubby sofas and listened to  sad stories of loneliness, mental illness and substance abuse and I watched as my mentor tried her best to keep heads above water and bums out of the local psychiatric unit.
The last visit of the day was to a woman called Jean.
Jean lived alone in the top flat of a ten story complex. She had suffered from severe mental health problems for forty years and had recently been placed in her flat from long term psychiatric care only a few months before.
I remember her flat very well. There was no carpet in the hall and the living room but there was a tiny tinsel Christmas tree standing on top of a large black and white tv.  A homemade fabric stocking was hung on the fire surround and just two Christmas cards  were perched on the mantle.
( one of those cards having been sent by my colleague) The flat was sparse but incredibly clean and it was evident that Jean had been waiting for our visit all day.
In mismatching cups we were offered coffee with powdered milk and a single mince pie served on a paper plate and I remember sharing a sad glance with the nurse when Jean presented us both with gifts hastily wrapped in cheap Christmas paper. My gift was two placemats with photos of cats on them. The nurse received a small yellow vase, and I remember Jean beaming with delight when we both thanked her effusively for her kindness.
When we washed up our own cups, the nurse quietly checked the fridge, noting that most of the shelves were empty . There was a calender on the wall with the note " NURSE COMES TODAY" written on that day's date. Nothing else was written on it until the week of new year's eve, where the same sentence was written.
It was the very first time that I had experienced someone who was so totally isolated in a community setting and it shocked and saddened me.
I listened as the nurse talked about medication, and as  I waited patiently when she took Jean into the bedroom to administer a regular injection I noticed a carrier bag which the nurse had tucked away by the side of the arm chair shortly after we arrived. In it was a package of cold meat, and what looked like chocolates and a cake.
Before we left, we let Jean monopolize her only conversation of the week and as she retrieved our coats, I watched and grew a few years older as the nurse silently slipped a ten pound note behind one of the cards on the mantle.


77 comments:

  1. Some really rare people have Christmas in their hearts year round....This nurse seems to be one of those ....

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  2. as charles dickens wrote: "We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of the year. We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five." such was that nurse.

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  3. What a touching story that really brings home how tragic some people’s circumstances are. I am so thankful to be surrounded by wonderful family and friends, but so many people aren’t and it’s heart breaking. I know the large institutions we used to have were not always the answer for people with Jean’s problems, but at least she would have had a sense of belonging and would have been cared for. Leaving the vulnerable to the so called ‘care of the community’ just doesn’t work, and the toll it must eventually take on kind nurses like your friend must be huge.

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  4. Oh John, that is real kindness isn't it! So very sad and so lonely too. Those little kindnesses on both sides must have made such a difference, well I can tell they did for you, and I hope they did for the lady you were visiting too.

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  5. This story has brought a tear to my eye. If only pricks like Jeremy Hunt could understand and appreciate the dedication, kindness and selflessness shown by the nurse that day. And Jean would not have been the only one with whom the nurse and many other community nurses went that extra mile.

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  6. Thank you for sharing that story. Some people really are truly alone. It puts things into perspective. -Jenn

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  7. A bitter indictment on society as a whole I'd say because things haven't changed much. I once knew a GP who worked in an extremely deprived area with patients like Jean. He said that he was just a lifeguard in a cesspool and his job was to keep people in the shallow end. He got it just about right I think.

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  8. Oh and following on from YP's comments, I'm glad to see that this photo of Jeremy Hunt is still doing the rounds!

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  9. The nurse was a living Angel. Our village has begun a befriending group.

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  10. A tale of loneliness and kindness, you learnt from a good nurse.

    In 1985 I was living in Eccles in Manchester in a run down council estate with an out of work husband and one son. We seemed poor at the time but in comparison to Jean we had so much, we had friends around us and family to visit and enough to fill a stocking for my son and feed a pet dog ... and if we ran out of cash we could shake the box at the back of the tele and 'borrow' the 50p pieces that we had to feed in to view the television xx

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    1. Let me remind you and everyone that you and your hubby went out of your way recently to help a homeless man in llandudno

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    2. When you come from virtually nothing it's easy to share what you have worked for with others. xx

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  11. I can't even think of what to say. This is the first thing I have read this morning, I always go to Going Gently to start the day .. I guess I just thank god that there were and still are nurses and just regular people like the Nurse .. those who do things from the heart as much as from what they "should" do or what their job is.
    I think you are much the same as the nurse .. I can imagine you doing such a thing too.

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  12. Very moving story.
    Both of you visiting was an even a bigger kindness than those cold meats. Doesn't matter that it was part of the job for you both, Jean felt someone cared enough and it is sad to us, but hopefully it gave her a little light in her otherwise tough existence. Bless you and that nurse. We need more people to give a damn about those way less fortunate or functional in today's fast moving, cutthroat society.
    MissFifi

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  13. Thanks John, for reminding me that sometimes the answer to 'what else can I do?' is "just a little bit more."

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    1. That is so true. xx

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    2. Lane.......long time no hear x

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  14. And now I'm crying first thing in the morning.

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  15. I agree with everyone's comments here. You have told a very moving story. I always feel that Christmas is bitter/sweet as I think about all the people and animals that have no homes or nothing of their own and of course those people who are alone. It must be an extremely sad existence and their sadness must be even more enhanced at Christmas time. Just puts everything into perspective. Glad you told this story because you have put a bit of faith back in mankind and obviously there are caring, selfless people out there (like yourself, your colleague and the lovely comments of your readers).

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  16. Thank you John, that has centred me at this time of mass over-spending and "must have" silliness. That story is heart-breaking, where would we be in life without support workers like your then colleague and your good self? Thank you one again for being you. Sue x

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  17. And *that* is the true meaning of Christmas. Thanks for the reminder. (wiping away tears...)

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  18. I work with some lonely people. It is heartbreaking. We had an older gentleman who lived on the streets most of the time. Many days he would sit on the bench outside our food bank. In the winter, he slept on the floor of a small laundry, but had to leave very early before customers came in. He was a member of a large family, but they would have nothing to do with him. When he died last year, they gave him a big funeral and wrote about him like he was someone they loved. I do not know the whole story, so I should not judge, but I wonder where were they when he sat outside in the freezing cold all by himself.

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  19. Thank you for this bittersweet story. It's a good reminder.

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  20. Your story put me in mind of the Christmases we served the homeless in Toronto. It wasn't about the food but the rusty disused voices sharing their stories. I cry in remembrance as you must.
    XO
    WWW

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  21. Well you certainly had an excellent example of human kindness set for you there John... What a wonderful woman.

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  22. Lovely Christmas story, John.

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  23. A reminder for us all of how blessed we truly are. And if you have a "Jean" in your life, don't forget her or him. It really doesn't take much to make someone who may be having a terrible time feel a little better by just a kind word or deed.

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  24. Teary eyed here again...that nurse is someone to look up to, has (or had - sorry) a huge heart, and was a proper Christmas angel.

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  25. Your story really puts things in perspective in this crazy world we live in.

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  26. What a great story. How much more meaningful the gifts she offered you were than most of what we all give and receive this time of year! Even the coffee and pie would have been a sacrifice for her to give. How beautiful.

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  27. Thank you, John, for that touching story. It really puts things into perspective. Thank goodness the tissue box is at hand.

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  28. Wow, that is quite a story. Thank you for sharing. I love the line about how you grew a few years older... very insightful and self-reflective.

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  29. Reminds me so much of a family member.
    I worry how this person is going to make out when I am gone from this mortal soil.

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  30. What an amazing mentor for you to have. What an amazing human being. Thank you - and her.
    Here on the crisis lines I have noticed that lonliness/isolation is at the root of most of our calls. Is it true for the calls the Samaritans receive as well?

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    1. Yes, loniness is a big factor in caller numbers

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  31. If only there were more like that nurse, and you, in this world, it would be a happier place.

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  32. What a compassionate person that nurse was, and what a good student you were! That story brought tears to me eyes. Thank you

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  33. John, what a beautiful story for Christmas. I showed me the real spirit of Christmas, something so lacking these days in that hidden underworld where there will be hundreds of Jeans.

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  34. Heartbreaking. I am glad that she had been left some food and money. None of us know if we will end up like Jean.

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  35. What a heartbreaking and heartwarming story, John. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  36. How totally heartbreaking. x

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  37. Many lonely people out there every day of the year.
    Thanks for sharing this story, John.

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  38. God bless that beautiful nurse x

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    1. Its really bugged me that i only remember her surname !

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    2. Bloody hell its just come to me! Terri her name was terri

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  39. Thank goodness there are still lots of good people today.

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    1. She may be dead now rach

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    2. I was meaning there are people I know around me who do good things today. I could not tell it so well as you though.

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  40. Your mentor nurse was truly a nurturing soul as are you, John. I believe there is a special heaven for such souls. I remember one Christmas when I had to make a home visit to one of my students. There was no tree but the children had colored pictures of Christmas trees and taped them up on the wall. Mother was alone because father was away on military assignment and we don't pay our military enough for them to live decently. My student asked for a little lock to place on his little box of "boy treasures" (like rocks, feathers, and marbles). I went back to school, took up a collection, went to a nearby grocery store and got a gift certificate (no charge with the store manager's blessing), grabbed the school Christmas tree and delivered everything that afternoon. That was that family's first real Christmas. My student is a young adult but I still think about that family and hope all is well

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    1. That made me cry mary.....beautiful xxxxx

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  41. Found it hard not to cry. Did you ever see Jean again? Thank you for sharing. I bet that present from the nurse made her day. X

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    1. I didn t ....and i never met the nurse again even though i worked with her husband later in my training

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  42. I really feel like crying. You can forget so much in life but this moment will stay with you forever and I know you are the kind person you are because you have witnessed incidents like this. I just wish politicians could witness first hand this kind of moment and then maybe the world would be a better place. Jane xx

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  43. I, too, feel like crying. There but for the grace of god or whatever... That was so sweet of Jean and what a kind nursing sister.

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  44. The effect of compassion and kindness is always memorable to me. Apparently it is to you, too.

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    1. I remember the day very well but never really talked to the nurse involved about it

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  45. I found out that there are 2 homeless men in out little town and was rather sad. The vicar gives them soup and sarnies every night when they bed down in the church porch. It's not much but I made a proper Christmas cake for the vicar to slice for them. Should last a week or so. Shocking world we live in now. So many on the streets.

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    1. Little acts of kindness help me think

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  46. Some people have got nothing and nobody, we`d all do well to remember that. Bless her heart.

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  47. This brought a tear to my eye...Terri was a wonderful mentor. I have a "Jean" in my life and always do on holidays and birthdays, as others do for me. Interestingly, that does not include family for either of us at this point. As Jono said, kindness is always memorable and worth furthering. The world would be lost without it.

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    1. I am glad i remembeeed this ...i do have another story about another visit....but it is less uplifting.so i will post it in the new year.......we need christmas posts dont we?

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  48. Thank you for the story..i have mention i care for my mentally challenged sister who is 10 years younger than me. My everyday prayer is that i am granted 5 minutes more of life than she so she will never be alone...hope we find people like you and your nurse jean

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  49. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Going Gently will never be the same now Millicent without your two ( or more) comments x

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    2. There is both sadness and great joy with the honor of caring for another. My sister is Wendy, but i call her Winnie and she calls herself Win. Just so you know, she is much like your bulldog.

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  50. A beautiful story, well told, and well worth emulating.

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  51. Very impressive. It is hard to imagine a nurse doing that today, and perhaps that is unfair, but I am generalising to make a point. In most large workplaces here there is antipathy between staff and management and that does not frame staff minds well to show some kindness and go the extra yard.

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    1. Andrew, if a person is of a disposition to go the extra yard they will regardless. Please be assured of this. And I know many who do. There are many kind people in this world.

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  52. I've just experienced shift after shift of amazingly kind and personal nurses. It is nothing short of miraculous how they can keep seeing the person in the bed and connect like they do, even in the middle of the night. Bless them all, every one, and bless you and your kind heart, John.

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  54. Brilliantly told. I recognise this story even though I cover a much more affluent patch in my role in a community mental health team. Loneliness and marital disharmony feature large and are definitely contributors to mental health problems. xx

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  55. Beautiful. You have a gift for story-telling, John.

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  56. What a very touching story. And how sad that there are so many people just as poor and just as isolated, looking forward so eagerly to the occasional visitor.

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  57. Oh. Special people like you and other nurses have been given tender hearts and firm resolve.

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  58. Very tender, moving . . .
    And real . . .
    Thankful for you . . . and the nurse . . . being there,
    for Jean . . .

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