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.
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.
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?
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.