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Nursing Memoirs and Poetry

Vera Brittain

Vera Brittain Chronicles of Youth

I am currently searching for nurses’ memoirs and poems to read. These are areas of nursing that are not common place in nursing journals or the media. I feel they were probably more abundant in the early 1900s to the 1960s.

I am currently reading Vera Brittain’s Chronicles of Youth, about her life  pre-war, living with her family in Buxton, attending parties, lectures at community halls and the promise of education at Oxford. She describes the thoughts and feelings of others on her plans for a University education as mixed with some of her society friends believing higher education is not a route she should be taking. Her writings present her as a determined young woman with aspirations beyond the current life she describes.

I wonder if this is not so different from our current times in nursing. Today it is still a topic for debate whether nursing should be a  graduate profession. Even when I applied to complete the degree after the diploma programme of nurse training I was discouraged by my nursing seniors in the 1990s. It was viewed that a nurse does not need a degree education to care. That the current nurse training is sufficient to educate nurses in the art and science of nursing and the daily practical skills for registration. But it is the notion of the enquiring mind to explore, read, debate and examine what we do, how we do it and look at the evidence. If we no longer enquire about our profession, patient care or the politics of the health service how would we be a part of medical science and evolving healthcare ?

I respect that the academic route is not for everyone and by no means would I demand that nurse training should be completely by graduate pathway only. But there should be options, an exit point for registration and an extension point to an honors degree. In nursing I believe that skill mix is important and should be encouraged and embraced.

(Image from Google images)

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What do you see…..A copy of this poem was common place at nurses’ stations when I was a student in the 1990s

What do you see, nurse… what do you see? Are you thinking – when you look at me: “A crabbed 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, resisting 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 not looking at me!    I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still. As I move at your bidding, 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 a love she’ll meet;  – A bride 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 together with ties that should last.  – At forty, my young sons have grown up and 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 ones 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, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart. There is a stone where I once had a heart.    But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells, And now again my bittered 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 open your eyes, nurse, open and see… not a crabbed old woman.  Look closer… see me!

Poem from Google


Welcome to MedicinalMeadows

This is a blog looking at my interests in healthcare, wellbeing and therapeutic writing. I will bring you memoirs and poems from history as well as my own thoughts.

There is a resurgence of writing for health. This is no new phenomenon and we can see this from poetry, journaling and therapeutic writings from times such as World War 1, the 1950s and others still yet to discover.