Recently, I took my nine year old daughter to visit one of our older fellow parishioners in a local nursing home. I say ‘older’ – this long lived lady is one hundred and four years old which puts the comparative adjective into another league altogether. She was born in 1909, five years before the start of the First World War and a year after Henry Ford’s Model ‘T’ Ford began production.
Elizabeth (as I’ll call her) moved out of her flat a couple of years ago when her physical and mental state became increasingly fragile. My daughter had been present at the 100th birthday celebrations (cake never far from her mind) and had been swept up in wonderings about someone who had lived and seen so much. Though I nursed anxieties about how such a visit would affect both Elizabeth and our youngest, Daughter Dear was resolute -we should visit Elizabeth. I made the necessary arrangements, phoning beforehand to check if Elizabeth could have visits from a child. Yes, I was told, that’s fine.
The home was welcoming, modern, cheerful and (very important) lacked the faint malodour that sometimes pervades nursing homes. Elizabeth’s room was well stocked with pictures and mementoes of times gone by. The lady of the house, now bed bound for some of the day as she is so fragile, was asleep, pink varnished nails peeping over the edge of the duvet. Waiting for my cue, I knelt down beside her bed to gently wake her.
Now the point of the story is not Elizabeth’s care, nor the important political and social concerns of the care of an ageing population, nor indeed about Elizabeth herself. What really caught my attention was our daughter’s reaction to Elizabeth. My daughter pulled up a chair to the bed and very carefully took her hand. ‘Do you remember me?’ , she began. And then, in her soft, chatty, nine year old voice, began to talk to Elizabeth. Another one hundred and four year old hand stretched out from under the duvet and stroked the child’s plump cheek. And a glimmer of recognition. My daughter, cheerful and accepting, simply took this all in and responded with warmth. And the thought popped into my head, ‘she’s a nurse’.
We stayed only a short while, leaving chocolate buttons behind for Elizabeth and my daughter rewarded by a little wave from the bed. As we passed along the corridor, there were questions about the layout of the home, the photos , the memorabilia. Later, in the car, our discussion moved to hoists, air beds, nutrition and memory. She was probing and practical about the details and showed what I regard as resilience balanced with kindness. I was, of course, proud of her.
I pondered on this for much of the day. I don’t talk much about my work with the children and if I’m honest, they’re all a little perplexed about what sort of nurse I am. She’s never played ‘hospital’ and doesn’t possess a toy medical set. Where had this embryonic nurse come from? Has my nine year old daughter learned this from me? I’m forced to conclude, that as with many other facets of our children’s various personalities, that much of the groundwork has been laid before I get even a whiff of chance to form them. I once thought, naively perhaps and in a conceited way, that children were a blank sheet of paper on which we parents could write.
But what really struck me was my visceral recoil from the thought that our daughter would follow me into nursing. I couldn’t budge from thinking ‘oh no.’ I should have been able to celebrate that moment of recognition of a future nurse, but instead found myself anxious and doubtful. It’s also set me wondering about nurses of the future and what I should or could be doing now to address my misgivings. I couldn’t place why I didn’t greet this revelation about her with acceptance and pride. Is this just me or am I not alone in my anxiety?
Nursing is my vocation and my chosen profession.
So why not pass the baton?