This moving poem was written by an un-named old woman in a geriatric ward of London Hospital last century, and found in her locker after she died. The nursing staff thought she was senile and couldn’t write her own name.

What do you see nurse, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you look 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”.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still
As I rise at your bidding, as I eat at your will
I’m a child of ten with a father and mother,
brother and sisters who love one another.
A bride soon at twenty my heart gives a leap.
At twenty five now I have young of my own
who need me to build a secure happy home.
At fifty once more babies play round me knee.
Again we know children my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead.
I look to the future I shudder with dread.
My young ones are busy rearing young of their own
and I think of the years and the love I have known.
I’m an old woman now and nature is cruel.
Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool
The body it crumples, grace and vigour depart
There is 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 the living all over again.
And I think of the years all too few, gone too fast
and I accept the stark fact that nothing will last.
So open your eyes nurse, open and see,
not a crabbit old woman. Look close and see me.

The Nurse’s Reply

– by nurse Bruni Abbott of Prince Henry’s Hospital

What do we see, you ask. What do we see?
Yes we are thinking when we look at thee
We may seem to be hard when we hurry and fuss,
But there’s many of you, and too few of us.
We would like far more time to sit by you and talk,
To bathe you and feed you and help you to walk.
To hear of your lives and the things that you’ve done,
Your childhood, your husband, your daughter, your son.
We grieve when we see you so sad and alone.
With nobody near you, no friends of your own.
We feel all your pain, and know of your fear
that nobody cares, though your end is so near.
But nurses are people with feelings as well,
And when we’re together you’ll oft hear us tell
of the dear old gran in the very end bed,
and the lovely old dad, and the things that he said.
We speak with compassion, and love and feel sad
when we think of your lives and the joys that you’ve had.
When the time has arrived for you to depart
You leave us behind with an ache in our heart.
When you sleep the long sleep, no more worry or care.
There are other old people, and we must be there.
So please understand if we hurry and fuss –
There are many of you – and too few of us.


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