In a cafe close by the cliffs of the Hampshire coast, Glen was sat diagonally opposite me. He had the window seat. Sylvia, his wife was next to him and on my left was Helen a not-so-old-but-older-than-me, old friend and colleague from Trader’s Ward, Glen’s ward. We were his protégés I guess.
To me, he was my first inspirational teacher. I learnt so much from him. When I told him this he responded, his mannerisms unchanged, by clicking his teeth and half-tossing his head back as he looked out the window. “Really…” he said, not really taking in what I had revealed. It wasn’t that he was unconvinced. It was that he couldn’t process the words or place them to any specific memory. Sylvia said, defeated,that he had lost all that now.
His Alzheimer’s had progressed from a bit of a poor memory to severe memory loss with the condition of ‘sundowners’ thrown in. All part of the deal?
This was a man I hadn’t seen for about four years and hadn’t worked with for twenty-four years. Back then he was full of life, laughter, love and mischief. Even today he had a cheeky glint in his eye, sometimes at the wrong moment but mostly it was a look of loss and bewilderment, an emptiness behind his striking blue eyes. He was a charge nurse (and will always be) on a busy surgical ward in a cottage hospital. He ran it as a tight ship with no room for error. His ward was to be my last placement before I qualified as an enrolled nurse.
I, like so many ‘interns’ was terrified of meeting him. I got up extra early on my first morning, visited the canteen for a proper breakfast but couldn’t stomach it when I got there. How could someone be so terrifying in the caring profession? I entered the office, heart thumping through my chest and bouncing my fob watch, and introduced myself. “Good morning I’m Nupil Purse Wobert Rindsor” (how did that happen?) He looked at me from his desk as I stood like a fekkin’ eejit and replied, with a smile, “Good morning Mr Windsor”. He had let the air out of my ready-to-burst balloon…for now.
As my time on that ward was coming to an end so was my training and I needed to have somewhere to work. For me, after learning so much about gastrointestinal and genitourinary systems, wound care and surgery as well as forming friendly working relationships with his team, I wanted to work on his ward. He invited me into the Nursing Officer’s (formerly a matron) office for a chat. This was my interview. He was honest and clear and told me that he didn’t like working with male nurses. He had a sense they could be arrogant and lazy. I was not like others that he had worked with (was that good or bad? I’ve always joked that I must be in touch with my feminine side) he wanted me to work for him if I would like to. Of course! It was truly an honour working with such a man that had humility yet the power to inspire and terrify.
He usually started a shift with a Cheshire cat grin and a song, slightly religious but sung in his irreligious way. He gave the patients a lift and the staff confidence. He got stuck into the work and shared the load. He took no nonsense and would be on the phone if there was any time wasting or excuses from other departments. If things were not performed properly or omissions occurred he made sure that didn’t happen again. People learned fast or didn’t stay.
I learnt so much from this man!
So much so that I stayed in a profession I only entered because my dad thought it would suit me. Glen was a mentor in the true sense of the word. He has shared his experience and knowledge to his ‘fledgelings’ and now we do the same.
So when Sylvia said “It’s all lost…” both Helen and I responded with “No it isn’t. He has given it to us to share.”
How many others has he inspired? Selfishly, I don’t care. What I do know is I now have much to give thanks to Glen for.
By the end of our visit, he vaguely thought he knew Helen’s face from somewhere but that was all.
I’m not giving up on this man or his wife. He didn’t.