In honor of National Nursing Home Week I wanted to share this very moving poem. It was found among the possessions of an elderly woman who died in the geriatric ward of a hospital. No other information is known about her. We don’t know who she was or when she died. All we have are these heartfelt words, which I think provide some understanding and insight into what many nursing home residents feel.
What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
Are you thinking, when you look at me —
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of 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.”
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe,
Who unresisting 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 looking at ME…
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 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 build a secure, happy home;
A woman of thirty, my young now grow 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 an old woman now and nature is cruel —
‘Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body is crumbled, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where once I 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 I open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
Not a crabby old woman, look closer, nurses — see ME!
Reprinted from the “Assessment and Alternatives Help Guide” prepared by the Colorado Foundation for Medical Care.