Do You See, Nurse?
Crabbit Old Woman
This poem was reportedly written by a woman who died in the geriatric ward of Ashludie Hospital near Dundee, Scotland. It was found among her
possessions and so impressed the staff that copies were made and
distributed to every nurse in the hospital. Though it was addressed to
the nurses who surrounded the woman in her last days, it cries for
the recognition of common humanity...it could have been written to all of
What do you see, nurse... what do you see?
Are you thinking
- when you look at me:
old woman, not very wise;
habit with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her
food and makes no reply
When you say in
a loud voice 'I do wish you'd try.'"
seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is
losing a stocking or shoe;
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!
tell you who I am as I sit here so still.
As I move at
your bidding, eat at your will:
I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,
and sisters who love one another;
- A young girl
of sixteen with wings on her feet,
that soon a love she'll meet;
A bride 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
me to build a secure, happy home.
- A woman of
thirty, my young now grow fast.
together with ties that should last.
At forty, my young sons have grown up and gone,
man's beside me to see I don't mourn;
- At fifty once
more babies play 'round my knee
know children, my loved ones and me...
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
and the love
that I've known.
an old woman now, and nature is cruel.
'Tis her jest to
make old age look like a fool.
The body, it
crumbles, grace and vigor depart.
There is a stone
where I once had a heart.
inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now again my
bittered heart swells;
I remember the
joys, I remember the pain
and I'm loving
and living life over again;
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 crabbed
Click Here for a PDF file that explores the origins of this poem and offers nurse
Phyllis McCormack as the author.
For more info or the video, please do an
online search. I'm afraid I do not have the video nor do I know where to
obtain it. Sorry. Here is info on the producer:
What do you see, nurse? [videorecording] / Gordon-Kerckhoff
Productions ; director, Ronald Floethe ; written by Phyllis M. McCormack
; adapted for the screen by Louise Lee Floethe.
Northbrook, IL : Coronet Film & Video, c1980.]
NURSE'S RESPONSE TO
CRABBIT OLD WOMAN
What do we see, you ask, what do
Yes, we are thinking when looking 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 bath you and feed you and help you to walk.
To hear of your lives and the things you have done;
Your childhood, your husband, your daughter, and your son.
But time is against us, there's too much to do -
Patients too many, and nurses too few.
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 now your end is so near.
But nurses are people with feelings as well,
And when we're together you'll often hear tell
Of the dearest 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 joy 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.