Monday, 24 July 2017

Matilda & Angel


It was 1987 and it was winter night filled with snow in York.
I was transferred to take charge of an elderly ward as staffing was dire.
I was a very junior staff nurse supported by two support workers.
The support workers were two Jamaican ladies of mature years.
I was told to refer to them with a respectful " Mrs Lewis and Mrs Dawson by the handover nurse
" They will show  you the ropes" I was told carefully.
I had never really spoke to a person of colour before. You never saw many non whites back then in North Wales and Chester, where I grew up and trained as a psychiatric nurse, but I was bright enough even then not to pull rank on two experienced nurse aides, and so I stepped back and allowed myself to be told what to do.
Mrs Lewis and Mrs Dawson worked at their own pace. They were unhurried and respectful, as they washed dirty bottoms and undressed the confused and the mute and I watched with some awe as together they bedded down 25 confused elderly ladies with the tired  and practiced ease of two broad hipped grandmothers that had seen some hardship over a 40 year career.
They sang together as they worked and they laughed and hugged their patients with some warmth when hugs were needed and by midnight the ward was quiet as they dished out their own suppers of rice and peas and jerk chicken at the nurses station.
I was given a plate too, with a napkin and a glass of homemade ginger cordial  and as I listened to them chat and laugh and I answered their questions about my home and family I realised just how sheltered I had been for the first 20 years of my life
At 6 am I asked their Christian names.....Matilda and Angel,  I was told and we all laughed....
It was a cold and snowy night in York and I took charge of an elderly ward of 25 senile patients
And I learnt more about good nursing care and life from twoblack,  big hearted support workers in 10 hours than I ever did from six months of my psychiatric nurse training.

47 comments:

  1. This is beautiful. And it sounds that not only did you learn a lot about nursing, you also learned a lot about life that night. And you haven't forgotten any of it.

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    1. It was my first experience of someone of another culture and i remembered and was moved by it tonight.

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  2. What a good lesson to learn at such a young age in a new career, John. And how fortunate you were to have these wonderful ladies to guide you.

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  3. those are the lesson teachers. wise women!

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    1. I sooo needed the lesson they taught me x

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  4. Big hearts count for so much!

    I often see support workers accompanying elderly people to the shops and it can be heart breaking to watch as the support worker walks ahead or sits for coffee but scrolls through their phone, I want to shake them and tell them to gift their person with their presence.

    Matilda and Angel had it right

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    1. They did, and they, i suspect knew that I needed to some black exposure

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  5. Hooray for the Matildas and Angels of this world. And thank you for remembering them - and cherishing those memories.

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    1. The overwhelming feeling of the night was the reflection of differing culture

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  6. A start on chapter three of the book?

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  7. People seem to come into our lives at just the right times. Life lessons from 2 kind and generous women. Werent you the lucky one. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. I WAS the lucky one, it was a lesson i needed to learn

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  8. Even though you were young and inexperienced you were open-minded too. You recognised the diligence and warmth of those two women. Others might have looked down upon them as mere support workers but you saw the quality of their care and realised that they deserved your respect.

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  9. 'I was bright enough even then not to pull rank on two experienced nurse aides, and so I stepped back and allowed myself to be told what to do'. Never a truer phrase was spoken. This holds true in many professions!!

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  10. awwww this teared me up. Wonderful story.

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish

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  11. I am sure that what you learned from those ladies that night influenced the way you did your job and then someone learned from your good spirit. Those ladies probably left a legacy that still lives on.

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  12. Ahh, you made me cry again :)
    I can imagine Matilda and Angel .. I had a child in a horrible accident and there were a few Matildas and Angels in that hospital too ... shushing and soothing and humming soft songs ... I sort of imagine you have a touch of that in you too, John ..

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  13. Thank heaven for Jamaican nurses. They probably saved the NHS.

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  14. A beautiful memory, well written. If only all supervisors would observe and learn from the people who give the most basic and intimate care to a patient.

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  15. The very best of nursing care. What wonderful women.

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  16. Humility is one of the greatest qualities of a good person who will succeed and be respected.

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  17. I worked in the radiology dept a few years ago when Miss Hazel, a small Jamaican senior bought in Bucks Fizz for me and my colleague. As a non drinker herself, I don't think she understood how sloshed we were getting. Bless.

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  18. Lovely story John, there were so many lovely ladies like them back in the 80s. On my second ward, a heavy medical, there was Mrs Saunders. SHe worked so hard and warned us what to do and not to do or Sister would have our guts for garters!! In the afternoons, Mrs Saunders would sing if she was in a good mood. The older chaps loved it, my favourite was " I Love You Because". We used to fill up, she had the voice of an angel. Bev x

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  19. There's nothing like having good teachers!

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    1. And good students, smart enough to recognize brilliant technique and compassion!

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  20. "Teachers" Matilda and Angel . . .
    We do know when someone, some thing is "good and right" . . .
    I am sure you have "taught" many since you carried on from there.

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  21. Totally fabulous story John...I can imagine the way Matilda and Angel created their magic that night... and the way a young John Gray learnt his stuff..

    Jo in Auckland, NZ

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  22. What fabulous ladies, They taught you well x

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  23. It was a beautiful Jamaican woman that comforted my daughter as she watched over her father who had overdosed on methamphetamine. Some people just do their job and some people love while doing their job. A wonderful and lofty goal.

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  24. lucky for you that you were open to being taught by two black women from another culture. we should all be so lucky.

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  25. John, after having been a very lazy blogger, I am gradually catching up on what I have been missing. How fortunate I feel to have seen this post this morning. It has brought back many memories from long ago when I first moved from suburban Virginia to life in New York City in the 1960s.

    My recent return to oil painting has gobbled up lots of hours that I would have been spending strolling/scrolling through blogland. Hoping you will forgive my staying current with your posts. I have much to catch up on. xo

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  26. What you sow you reap. They gave you a little gift there that night and I am sure you passed that on. What lovely ladies.

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  27. When my mother was in the nursing home the year before her death, she had a wonderful Hispanic nurse's aide named Genera who was her main caretaker during the day. She would sing to my mother when she washed her hair. My mother, who had dementia, would be mean to me when I visited but kind to Genera, a fact that I didn't mind so much because I'd rather have it that way than the other way around. After my mother passed away suddenly, I came back to the nursing home and sought out Genera to thank her. I told myself I wasn't going to cry, but just seeing her walking down the hall toward me caused the flood gates to open. We hugged and she took me to my mother's now empty room where I managed to thank her profusely. A year or so later I ran into her at the post office. She had a new job helping an elderly couple in their home. This on top of raising a family of three or four kids of her own. What would we do without angels like these?

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    1. A lovely story thank you

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  28. Hold fast to love where ever
    and when ever it is offered.
    It really does make the journey easier.

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  29. Beautiful story and it shows there is love in this world. X

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  30. When I had my eldest son 21 yes ago I never forgot the two Jamaican midwives who seeing an exhausted new mum with a fractious babe took him to the nursery and fed him so I could sleep. They were kind and comforting more than the Caucasian nurses who could be horrible. One of the Jamaican nurses said " you'll have trouble feeding him" he was a greedy little sod and 21 yes old still loves his grub and empties the fridge. Lol

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    1. I too can empty the fridge

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  31. Your poor mum. I feel her pain. Lol

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  32. What a wonderful story. Thank you.

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  33. What a great story- thanks!

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  34. What a wonderful story.

    We do well to go through life learning from those that have mastered good practices in any field. Experience used to count so much more, now it's all paper qualifications and 'proper practices.

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  35. What a wonderful story.

    We do well to go through life learning from those that have mastered good practices in any field. Experience used to count so much more, now it's all paper qualifications and 'proper practices.

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  36. Hooray for the Matildas and Angels of this world. And thank you for remembering them - and cherishing those memories.


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