What do you see when you’re looking at me?

Do you pass judgement on people you see without ever knowing them?

Many years ago whilst training to be a nurse I spent time in a childrens hospital in the accident and emergency department.
While I was there I got great experience which was invaluable in my nursing training.photo credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet via photopin cc
However it was the lessons in life I learned there which I’ve never forgotten.

The department was run by a nun, who was kind, caring, skilful, patient, and smart.
I do not speak glibly when I say I grew to love her.
She, who would never have children, was amazing with all ages.
Children were drawn to her.

When I arrived with my four fellow nursing students we were taken aback.
We came from a modern adult hospital.
On arrival to this childrens hospital, housed in a very old building, there appeared to be no order,
and an awful lot of noise. I discovered this was an environment I thrived in.

I came from a middle class background, and was now operating in the midst of the city centre.
All manner of people came through the door, and having money did not make your child any less sick, or your worry any less.
We also learned that some who came in went home with more than they should, (handbags, money, and all manner of things)
so we tried to be as vigilant as possible, sometimes not very successfully.

As is often the way with young adults, I was very opinionated.
Right was right and wrong was wrong. No grey areas.
From the minute anyone came in the door I would put them into the appropriate box.
Gurrier, bad parent, hyper mother, oppressive father, and of course “normal”.
It took only a glance at them, or a brief word, for me to judge them.photo credit: malias via photopin cc

Slowly, without my realising it, Sister Sheila began to open my mind.
I noted the caring way she treated everyone the same, from the rudest and non caring parents, to the overly anxious.

Then one day a mother came in with two children.
She was a young girl really, about nineteen years old.
A similar age to myself. Her children were three years old and eighteen months. I sat down with her as she told me her baby was “poorly”.

“Poorly?”, I ask, “in what way?”.
“Well he has a temperature, and he is very sick, chuckin up all the time”
My opinion thermometer worked very quickly here.
It read, “unmarried mother, rough looking, with a child who was definitely not sick”.

Having taken this brief history, I placed it in the non urgent box. Over the next while I observed her from a distance.
Her baby played happily with all the toys while she barely looked in his direction. His sibling played along side him.

After a while Sr Sheila called me over. “Did you take this history?”, she said, and showed me this young mothers card.
“Yes Sister”, I said, “and I’ve been watching her since. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with her young child, he is playing away happily and has not been sick once”.
“So why do you think she is here?”, she asked me. “I don’t know, maybe she’s just looking for a night off?”, I said in a very condescending voice.
Sister Sheila looked at me, and said very softly, “I think you need to go and talk to her, she is the same age as you. I want you to sit with her and be her friend for half an hour”.

I was absolutely horrified by this. Sit down with a stranger, who was obviously a bit of a “wan” and chit chat.
What would we talk about?

As I had no choice I did as I was asked. I sat beside this girl and introduced myself.
She soon began to loosen up and open up. I discovered she was only eighteen and homeless.

That in itself was such a shock. Homeless with two small children.
Now as I looked at her and her children I saw more. I saw she was clean, as were her children.
Their hair was washed and their clothes were not dirty.
How did she do that?

Over time she explained to me that she was in care and foster homes all her life.
Now she was “housed” by the council in a bed and breakfast. This meant she could go there at 7pm and had to leave each day at 9am.
The hours in between she walked the streets, in wind or rain. For dinner she went to a charity but could not stay there during the day.
Her youngest had asthma and was a terrible sleeper. She told me she had no friends and was exhausted.

I was completely overwhelmed by all I heard.
How could someone younger than I was rear two children, homeless and penniless?photo credit: Oliver Lavery via photopin cc
As I saw her hug her young boy and kiss her baby, I saw what I had missed before.
I stood up and asked her if she wanted us to help. Her eyes filled up, she shrugged and said “I just don’t know”.

I hurried off to Sr Sheila, to tell her the story of this young girls plight.
As I spoke I began to understand that Sr Sheila had had a lifetime of dealing with such young mothers.
She nodded, and explained that there were many more out there in the same situation, and that there was very little real help available.

The decision was taken to admit the little boy for one night. It was a “social admission”, which would give the mom a small break and allow a social worker access to her to see if they could help.

As I drove home from the hospital I was haunted by my conversation. Over the next few weeks as I continued to work in the A and E I began to look around me with fresh eyes, and over the years I have continued to do so. That girl in many ways changed me forever.

Our eyes can be deceiving. They only allow us see what we want to see.
It is all that we don’t see that really counts.

……

If you like this true story you may also like others in my memory lane category.

photo credit: jdlasica via photopin cc
photo credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet via photopin cc
photo credit: Oliver Lavery via photopin cc
photo credit: malias via photopin cc

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34 thoughts on “What do you see when you’re looking at me?

  1. What a brilliant teacher, your nun that you grew to love. I think I love her some myself. I wish I could say I was more like the nun. But I’m not. I’d like to think that as I have gotten older I have gotten “closer” to being like her. But I have miles to walk before I am completely that good. I hope I make it. Now I’ll wonder about that ‘girl’ and her 2 babies. I hope she found her way and was able to provide security and love for her children. Beautiful post.

    1. She was one of the most inspirational people I ever met. I wrote about her before in a post called “it’s a miracle”. I would not be too confident this girl made it but it’s nice to hope she did.

  2. Tric, this is so very true. And not only do we judge, but we (me included) just look past people so often and not look at them at all. What a poignant reminder to look into the heart of another human being instead of just at them with our own world views.

  3. I love this Tric! What a wonderful example of how the vision of our human eyes are so superficial, but when we look with our hearts, sometimes we can see into someone’s soul. Great lesson for everyone here!

  4. this is a very, very beautiful story, tric, the nun understood human nature and was nonjudgmental, the mother didn’t trust or depend on people, and you – learned to trust your heart and not your head. just beautiful and what a wonderful thing to learn and remember.

  5. A very learning story about nonjudgmental as I think, we often need some age and experience to learn more about, if we ever learn.
    To be open-minded help a lot. You got a really good lesson from the nun with the big heart. Thanks for sharing.
    Irene

    1. Yes, it is only as we get older that we know how little we know. It was good to begin to open my mind, and I definitely needed my corners rounded. Thank you .

  6. Excellent post, Tric. This goes to show even more that we can’t judge people by their cover not their circumstances. We don’t know anyone or why they do what they do, until we take the time to speak with them. This girl taught you a great lesson. One that you now get to teach to others. These lessons are much needed.

  7. Guilty as tried – I told a hitch-hiker the other day that I don’t stop for weirdoes with tattoos, greasy hair and a beer can. However, it’ll be a while before I start judging mothers on their clothes, weight or the name they give their child (I checked out Katie Holmes after your recent post about stay at home mums: she appears to be one can short of a six pack. I hope all her friends are as obnoxious as she appears to be).

    1. Oh you are very pass remarkable, was he one of those you were describing? I think katie is just in it for the money and fame, but I still wonder, if you have children why would you give them this example?

      1. Nooo. 🙂 He was all clean and tidy. I once took on a couple who ended up being drunk but happily so, and Little My was with me in the car. Since then, physiognomical evaluation has become an obligation…
        Maybe Katie’s will grow up to be more lucid than their mum…

  8. Being a nurse myself, I hugely relate to this.Sometimes the job becomes just that, until you are snapped back into reality. I do not like to be considered numb to my surroundings. Its nice when we can open our ears and actually listen to whats being said. Even if we may not be able to physically help, sometimes its just nice to lend an ear. You are a good soul tric….Im not sure Ive ever told you that before!:)

  9. I think that there are so many assumptions made about those struggling or on the street, but also there is a lack of awareness about how much help is truly available. Until one has a family member in this situation or encounters it like you did here, we assume that there is always assistance, no need to be homeless, etc. There are so many variables that can work against a person and not nearly as much help as we think.
    Thanks for sharing one of your lessons in life. It can be so enlightening to others.

    1. I think it is moments like this that change us as adults and allows us to mature and become kinder and more understanding.
      However if we are not exposed to them we have no real understanding of the reality of many peoples difficult lives.

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