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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

I saw two nurses murder an elderly patient many years ago

I saw two nurses murder an elderly patient, many years ago when I was a patient in a TB sanatorium.

Phyllis was an old lady on the ward. She was a bit odd. She was one of the patients who was allowed to walk about a little bit. Just to go to the bathroom and toilet, and to eat her meals at the table with the other ambulatory patients. Some patients, of course, had to stay in bed all the time. Bed rest.

Phyllis had a 'thing' about elbows on the table. If anyone rested their elbows on the table at all when they were eating, she would startle the whole ward with her outraged cry of, "Elbows off the table!" I used to marvel at her vehemence about something that surely scarcely mattered.

Phyllis was a smoker. In those days most people smoked. But not, of course, on a ward in a TB hospital! Smoking was not allowed. - Nevertheless Phyllis remained a smoker. Her husband used to bring her cigarettes and Guinness when he came to visit her.

She used to drag her thin, frail body to the bathroom to smoke. - She made of it a smoke-filled den, and liberally decorated its floor with gobbets of phlegm as she coughed repeatedly. A productive cough, you might say...

Most people were pretty terrified of this fragile, loud, bad-tempered, very old lady with the coarse voice and the dirty habits. But I doubt that many would have wished her dead.

I rarely slept much in that hospital. The medication I was taking had a side-effect of severe insomnia. I just used to lie there quietly in bed most nights. There was rarely much going on. It was a medical ward: no operations, no surgery. When the two nurses appeared in the middle of the night they arrived quietly. In those days nurses didn't wear shoes designed to make a din and keep patients awake as some nurses do today. They had evidently, so it seemed to me later, decided to 'deal with' the Phyllis problem.

They removed her from her bed without putting her dressing gown or slippers on and, one on either side of her, linking their elbows in hers, they force-walked the old lady up and down the length of the long ward. Until she was dead. Then they popped her back into bed to find, officially, a little later.

Why didn't you shout, Phyllis? - Maybe you did and I've forgotten. - Maybe you tried to shout but no one heard. Maybe, rendered breathless with the unaccustomed exertion of your death march, you struggled in vain to shout. - "Elbows off!" may silently have rent the air...