Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Back to College

Although the residency that this blog sprung from ended in December, I’ve been invited back to the School of Health in Social Science for the month of May to run some writing workshops with students and continue my writing about nurses.

May is a good time to come back to Edinburgh – the light on the old buildings is beautiful, the trees are finally misting over with new green, and there are interesting talks and events happening.

Last week, I went to the inaugural lecture by Professor
Charlotte Clarke
Charlotte Clarke, the (relatively) new head of school. Charlotte’s background is in nursing, and her lecture drew on years of practical and research experience in dementia care. In the talk, she challenged the habitually negative framing of the disease, and explored how we might better support those who are losing a cognitive, linear sense of themselves, but remain as human and emotionally complex as anyone else.

Towards the end of the talk, Charlotte shared a poem she had written about an inspiring encounter with a former patient. In a short space, it illuminated the theme of the lecture with a human presence. I thought it a perfect example of the particular understanding that nurses can bring to the world through expressive writing, if they give time to it.

Here is the poem:

Ahead of His Time

Rehabilitation ward they called it
But few ever left alive

Let’s call him that
Wordlessly seeing out his days
Silent with his fragile dignity

Early shift
Time to get Edward up
Talking – monologue
Not expecting any answer

Edward's job in years before
Lettuce and the problem of slugs

Slug pellets, salt rings, jars of beer
Tried them all
Any suggestions?

“Don’t grow them”
A silence broken!
But instantly returns
Forever, for Edward

I don’t grow lettuce now
Such ecological wisdom
Didn’t think like that in the 80s
So ahead of his time

Few words, big lesson
That has shaped my life
Work with, not against
Thank you Edward.

First published in Gilliard J. & Marshall M. (eds). Time for Dementia. Hawker Publications, London. 2010

If dementia is something that affects your life, or you are interested in understanding more about it, I can recommend the book Keeper, by Andrea Gillies – a deft blend of memoir and scientific investigation that won the first Wellcome Prize for literature in 2009. 

This week’s inaugural lecture is by the new nursing Professor, Josephine Tonks Fawcett, reflecting on a lifetime’s experience in nurse education, which I’m looking forward to very much, especially in the light (or should that be shadow?) of the Francis Report and it’s recommended changes to the way nurses are trained. Changes seized upon and expanded by the government in recent months, as if nurses were the wellspring of hospital failure. But more of that later.

You can read my interview with the inspirational Tonks here.

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