Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The nursing care plan classified him as ‘resisitive’. Behind closed doors they referred to him as that ‘belligerent old bastard’. As the registered nurse who was often on his ward I thought of him as intelligent and misunderstood, but at least still having ‘fire in the belly’ for life.
He wouldn’t eat with the others in the dining room. He said that the ‘custard dribblers’ made him ill. He said that if he “had any desire to see someone’s half digested food he would look in the garbage not at some other old codgers tonsils”. When the nurses said his comment was rude I asked them why they didn’t eat with the patients. They were silent.
He was given the ‘appropriate’ medical treatment for ‘belligerence’, which sadly to say, was to be given more of what annoyed him. He was put in a room with a dementia patient. He had served his country in the war, loved no one but himself and just wanted to be alone. Good, bad or indifferent—I understood. He was intelligent and articulate, independent and proud.
One weekend when one of the patients departed in the usual manner of those leaving nursing homes, I decided to act. Being the RN on his ward when the administration was away gave me a little leeway that I was determined to use. I rearranged the patients so that two dementia patients shared a room and Mr Belligerent was put in a room of his own. With a mixture of waffle, medical terminology and old fashioned bravado I managed to give him the privacy and dignity that he craved. What had been done, couldn’t be undone after the weekend when the administration arrived back to work. I was quite aware of the disdain that was directed my way for my championing of the ‘belligerent old bastard’. I didn’t care.
He smoked. Although I had never put a cigarette in my mouth I was prepared to lay down my life for his right to smoke. Even the sisters who smoked doled out his cigarettes with meticulous tyranny. Cigarettes that he paid for, I might add. Two at lunchtime and two at teatime. When I was on duty I would give him several whenever he asked for them (and perhaps a few when he didn’t). He didn’t have any significant diseases related to cigarette smoking and one of the women who was not classified as ‘belligerent’ was allowed as many cigarettes as she liked even though she had advanced emphysema and went outside with an oxygen tank.
I used to sit outside with him while he smoked when I wanted to see how he was doing. He tried to take great care that no smoke came my way and I would laugh when the wind changed and he swore as smoke swirled around me.
“That bit won’t hurt me,” I said chuckling.
One day while we were catching up he look me straight in the eye.
“How did an angel like you get to be in a place like this?” he said firmly.
I shrugged. He required no answer.
I was deeply touched. Having a religious background I had often wondered about angels and how one came to ‘get one’s wings’. Right then I decided that I had been gifted wings. Who was I to question the universe if they had come from a bad man, with a bad attitude and bad habits?
I had been given my wings. I was an angel.
“I’m going to learn to sew,” said mum. It was a quiet winter evening. Three astonished faces turned toward her, dad’s, my brother’s and mine. This was worrying. Mum and machinery did not mix. A genius at Maths and fast as lightning on a typewriter, mum was hopeless with all things electric or mechanical. We would have been less surprised if she had said she wanted to be an astronaut.
She had a Singer treadle sewing machine and often hemmed and mended our clothes. She had done beautiful hand embroidery when a young woman, but we were sceptical about the addition of electricity to the equation. She often complained that the toaster didn’t work because she hadn’t plugged it in. But she was determined and bought a Singer electric sewing machine from her hard earned money from working at the grocery store.
Mum never lacked enthusiasm and grit and she signed up for an evening TAFE course. She would take her sewing skills to a new level, she would do more than hemming and mending seams.
In typical style she opted for the toughest assignment. She would make an evening garment. I was already fascinated by sewing myself and had sat on her knee on the treadle machine thrilled with sewing simple seams as her strong hands guided me. I focused intensely on straight lines as well as maintaining the even rhythm of the treadle foot. I was excited by her new venture.
I was seven and looked at the new paper patterns with awe. This was a new world. The ability to make your own clothes, exactly the way you chose! Wearing something that no one else would have, wow! And it was going to happen right before my eyes.
Mum sat me down and told me how she was learning to draft her own patterns. She showed me the heavy cardboard templates that were used.
“They’re a bit small mum,” I said. “How will you fit into that? Do you have to make it bigger for your homework?”
“I’m making a dress for you,” she said, her eyes filling with pride. “The most beautiful dress in the world and you will choose exactly what you want.”
We sat and drew pictures. I wanted a lace front in white, a scooped skirt over a lace underskirt with a bow at the front. I wanted tiny puffed sleeves. And for the dream to really come to life I wanted shiny cobalt blue. I felt like Cinderella. Watching every step of was both agony and ecstasy. I bit my finger nails to the quick. Mum struggled with each new stage and stayed up late pinning and tacking, measuring and stitching. Mum said there was a fashion show at the end and I would model the dress on the catwalk. My life took on a dreamlike quality.
Finally the dress was finished. It was perfection. The night of the show came and my face glowed every inch down the catwalk. There had been a last minute hitch when it was determined that I needed gloves and had none so had to wear a pair of mums. I didn’t care. Nothing could spoil that moment.
I had practised walking and watching the row of lights. My face outshone them all. Not just because for the first time in my life I felt like a princess but because my mum had worked so hard to make me the best dress I’d ever seen. I was so proud of her.
Everyone assumed that with such outstanding success mum had found a new passion.
“What will you make next mum?” I asked. “Will you make yourself something nice?” I wanted her to have a reward for all her hard work.
“Good grief no!” she exclaimed. “I’m never doing that again—its a mug’s game.”