“SPEAK AS YOU FIND…”
This phrase one that rang true for me this week when I was given a sharp lesson, a reminder in basic humanity that pulled me up short.
I had the misfortune to find myself spending nine hours in an Accident and Emergency department. And fret ye not, twas not that I had damaged myself, nor had any accident befallen me, but rather that a close relative had a nasty mishap with a power tool. Just read this back and it sounds rather salacious, it really wasn’t! But was more the kind of accident that left me feeling a little nauseated at the sheer gore and yuckiness of it all. The details of which, dear reader, I shall spare you. Anyhoo, the injury and subsequent surgeries are not the topic of this article, it is instead about a woman… let’s call her Olive. Because that was her name.
But before I get to my tale of Olive. I need to rewind four hours into our
ordeal wait in the E.R. The place was packed. Injured and sick people were crammed onto uncomfortable chairs. The room was airless. Babies wailed, kids screamed, adults cried, and I wanted to be anywhere else. And then a young guy arrived shepherded inside by two Paramedics holding him up… let’s call him William. Because that was his name.
William was in a sorry state. He’d fallen flat on his face, cut open his head and his eye, and his glasses had smashed. His fingers were swollen, and he was very, very drunk. The room filled with the scent of liquor fumes and those of us all sitting, waiting, exchanged uncomfortable glances. This was all we needed thrown into the mix, a drunk. The big clock on the wall ticked even slower and louder…
William had dried rivulets of blood on his face and over his arms. He looked a little wild. Parents clutched their kids a little tighter and everyone sat up a little straighter, as if on high alert. He stood and wavered, unsteady on his legs and fell straight into me. He weighed nothing and apologised profusely. I held him up and helped him back to his seat. He was mortified and I was happy he was once again sitting quietly, as my heart rate settled. He kept apologising and I told him that I really was fine, and that we all stumbled occasionally. But the truth was I didn’t want to talk to him, not really. Three times he rose, made his way to the bathroom with his wobbly gait and returned with a renewed whiff of booze about him. He made me feel anxious and I was filled with relief when he started to snore…
People were gradually thinned out, seen by medics and dispatched home, or redistributed to operating theatres, wards, or specialist clinics. It was now well past dusk, past my bedtime and the room was starting to feel oppressive. William sat slumped in the corner.
Most of the emergencies had been dealt with and we waited for a surgeon and to be given an appointment to return. It had been a long and difficult day, as it always is when something pulls the rug from under you and the universe gives you a good kicking that you were not expecting. It was nearing eleven o’clock at night when in walked Olive and her husband.
She sat down hard and said hello to everyone, explaining that she’d slipped in her greenhouse and broken her arm. Laughing, she recounted how her husband had only been concerned with the seedlings she’d squished as she fell! We all laughed with her, and for the first time that day the tension slipped from the room. Holding court, she then explained how at her age (nearly 80) she really ought to be more careful. Pointing at William’s head, she asked, ‘now that looks painful, what have you done there?’
‘I fell over. I’d had a drink,’ he spoke quietly, ‘I’m going through a bit of a rough patch.’
‘Well, that happens,’ she sighed, ‘but you need to look after yourself or things just get worse.’ She advised, wisely and calmly.
‘My mum died.’ William admitted, as his tears broke their banks.
‘I still miss mine,’ Olive nodded, ‘and she’s been gone for longer than you’ve been alive.’
He stood again, clearly heading back to the bathroom, ‘you can’t go on your own,’ she stated, ‘my husband will go with you in case you fall again.’
Her husband stood to assist but instead William broke down and stayed in his chair.
‘Now, now.’ She soothed, ‘I didn’t know your mum, but I do know, as a mum, that she wouldn’t want you being like this. She’d want you to find a way to get through it.’
‘She would.’ I chimed, taking my lead from Olive, the smartest woman in the room, if not the whole building!
‘And you’re not on your own.’ She pointed out, ‘you have all of us right here, rooting for you.’
Everyone nodded and there was a collective murmur of support. Sweet Lord Above – it was a moment. A beautiful, unifying moment.
William thanked us all and cried a little and someone got him a cup of tea and I felt nothing but shame.
It had taken Olive the octogenarian and her broken arm, big heart, and clear head to recognise that William was a human in need. For hours, everyone had shrunk in their chairs and judged him, fearfully, wary of this wobbly legged drunk when all he needed was someone to talk to, someone to care for him in the smallest way.
Everyone that left the A & E wished him well and he visibly grew under their kind words, as if they were sustenance. It was indeed a sharp lesson in humanity and a reminder that we do all stumble occasionally, and what we need more than anything in that moment, is someone like Olive with her words of wisdom that even though we might have fallen, we might be cut, we might be hurting, we can and will rise again…
Thank you, Olive, hope your arm is on the mend and hope your seedlings flourish.
And to William I say – we are indeed all rooting for you.
For all things Amanda Prowse and to buy her books or pre-order her memoir, please head to www.amandaprowse.com - thank you X
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Oh, Mandy, this reads like a scene from a book!
I'm loving Olive.
We have a lot to learn from our elders, and the way Olive showed compassion and no judgement - well, there's a start!
I hope he carried that feeling of support with him when he left.
It's true you never know what someone else is going through.
This fits that adage - never judge a book by its cover - perfectly!
Oh, and I hope whoever the injured member of the family was, is okay, and no limbs or digits were lost in the process... DIY is a dangerous thing.
So is housework.
I'm currently nursing a painful nail and finger as changing bedsheets caused me to lose one of my newly done nails today, in a rather unfortunate manner...
Note to self. Get others to change sheets when you're sporting talons! 💜💜💜
Exactly! We never know what others are going through. In the days when I was a teacher, often the most difficult youngsters were those who had the most awful private lives. xx