AN OLD LADY’S POEM
“WHAT DO YOU SEE”
For many years I nursed geriatric patients but I always thought that they were somehow different from me, that they had changed by living so long on this planet. While in my late twenties, I read the following poem. It forever affected the way I thought of the elderly, the way I interacted with them. It helped me understand this life, its fragility and the importance of empathy and understanding.
Now that I am in that group, I particularly appreciate the sentiment. I know many of you have possibly read it before, but it is worth reading and re-reading
I hope you feel about this as I do …
What do You See Nurse?
What do you see, nurse, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you’re looking at me?
A crabbit old woman, not very wise,
uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes.
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
when you say in a loud voice, “I do wish you’d try?”
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
and forever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse; you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
as I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,
brothers and sisters, who love one another.
A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,
dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet.
A bride soon at twenty-my heart gives a leap,
remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own
who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,
bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
but my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee,
again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;
I look at the future, I shudder with dread…..
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
and I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old woman and nature is cruel;
’tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour depart.
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
and I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years; all too few, gone too fast,
and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurse, open and see,
not a crabbit old woman; look closer – see ME!!
The origin of this poem is uncertain; the Seniors Network calls it “Mattie’s Poem” and attributes it to a Scottish nurse who wrote it about a patient. Other sources say it was written by someone called Kate and that it was found in her hospital locker after she had died.