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Letter: In praise of nurses

In the ward the next day, there are four of us

In praise of nurses

I fell the other day.

My own fault. Wearing socks on the hardwood floor at home.

I know better too since I’ve been a home inspector for decades and have crashed, although not burned, in similar circumstances before.

And now, following a short ambulance ride, I’m in the hospital, on a gurney, in a crowded corridor of Emergency, waiting for the results from X-rays of my hip. I’m hoping I’ve just strained or sprained something, but since it hurts like the blazes, I’m not confident.

A lady doctor, her grey hair tied back in a low ponytail, stethoscope hanging loosely around her neck, comes up and shows me her iPhone screen.

“You did a number on your hip,” she says, showing me the X-ray and dashing my hopes of a quick and early exit. “Clean break all the way through. I’ve scheduled you for surgery tonight, but we’re busy so you may get pushed back till tomorrow.”

I’m lucky though and three hours later I’m on my way to the operating theatre, where I’m the recipient of two stainless-steel pins.

In the ward the next day, there are four of us, bed-heads are against the wall whilst footboards face a wide corridor in the middle. Curtains divide us at the sides, but I can see my new friend George, (85 and counting), across the way.

At 73, I’m the youngest by 10 years and probably 15. We all have broken hips, the other three were laid low a few weeks earlier.

These edited conversations took place over a period of four days, often in the middle of the night and with one exception, the nurses were female and 25 - 35 years old. People’s names have of course been changed to protect their privacy.


Nurse, striding into the ward and shutting off the ‘patient-out-of-bed alarm’:

“Henry, where you off to?”

Henry, who is 98, has his legs over the edge of the bed and is trying to stand up:

“The bathroom. I need to pee!”

N: “You got a bit ahead of yourself hon., let’s get your underwear and gown back

on for the trip shall we?”

H. (anxiously). “OK. But I need to pee.”

N: “Right. Here’s your walker, let me help you up. Here we g….. Oh Henry.”

H. (mortified): “I’m so sorry my dear, but I did say.”

N: “You did, sweetheart. You did.”

Balancing a naked Henry, she calls out to a colleague at the nurses’ station: “Jane - I need a mop, and clean underwear and sheets for Henry!”


George (85), glances into a small paper cup with eight pills, all different colours, and picks one seemingly at random:

“I had this pill twice today already.”

N: “You did George, but you get it every four hours.”

G: “When was the last time?”

N: “Four hours ago.”

There’s a pause whilst he considers that.

G: “Remind me, what’s your name?”

N: “Kylie.”

G: “I love you Kylie.”

N: “Well thank you, George.”

Charlie (91) has a lot of medical issues. As well as the ubiquitous hip break, he needs a heart valve urgently but in his nineties, the doctors are saying he probably wouldn’t survive the operation. He’s cheerful despite knowing his time’s limited.


C: Rings the bell.

Attractive redhead nurse arriving a few minutes later: “Charlie, it’s three-thirty in the morning, what can I do for you?”

C: ”Has anyone asked you to marry them today?”

N: (smiling), “Not yet, but the day is still young.”

C: “Will you marry me?”

N: “I’ll have to ask my husband first, but assume yes.”

C. “Thank you.”

N: “Anything else?”

C: “No. Thank you.”

N: “Sleep tight Charlie,” she says, tucking him in, “see you in the morning.”


Henry (98) is feeling particularly curmudgeonly tonight.

In a loud voice: “Nurse!”


He waits no more than five seconds.


Me, awake now, and from the next bed the opposite side of the curtain, I say:

“Press the button Henry.”

H: “To Hell with the bloody button. NURSE!”

James, our only male nurse appears. He’s late-twenties, tall, muscular, has a shaven head and wears a camouflage T shirt.

“Stop shouting Henry,” he says quietly, “you’ll wake everybody up.”

H. (petulantly): “If people came when I called, I wouldn’t have to shout.”

J: “Just press the button and one of us will come.”

H: “Too late, the button’s already been consigned to the fires of Hell!”

J: “How can I help you? How’s the pain level?”

H: “Pain level is three or four, so OK thanks.”

J: “Why were you yelling?”

H. “I was shouting because nobody came.”

There’s a moment’s silence, as they float together in a fog of mutual incomprehension, then:

J: “I’ll help you roll onto your side, so you can get back to sleep shall I?”

H: “Thanks. That’d be marvellous. Sorry about the shouting.”

J: “No worries - here, put this pillow between your legs - there you go - goodnight.”


I’m in the main corridor, practicing with my walker. Stand up straight, don’t slouch. Look ahead. Heel toe, don’t shuffle.

N: “Harry, you have no safety socks on.”

Me: “I do not.”

N: “Any particular reason?”

Me: “Well, since I’ve been in this hospital, I’ve got taller. Or, at the very least, my feet are further away and I no longer have access.”

N, (smiling): “Come here and sit and I’ll help you. Wasn’t it slippery feet though that landed you in here in the first place?”

Me: “Nobody likes a smart-arse.”

N: “Sit!”

The nurses were unfailingly upbeat, smiling and rushed off their feet. The doctors were forthcoming with information and made recommendations based on the available solutions which they shared in detail. I sure learned a lot about physiology. They all cheered with us when things went right.

George: “The doctor says I can fully weight-bear starting tomorrow.”

N: “George, that’s just amazing, now we can really start to move things forward.”

N: “Did you pee yet?”

Me: “Finally. Well, a few drips in the bottle.”

N: “Perfect, I’ll just go measure it. Good job!”

And they were there for us when the news wasn’t so good.

Me, (anxiously): “I have to have a catheter.”

N: “I won’t lie to you, it’s not pleasant, but you’ll be my fifth today, so I’m well practiced.”

In case you’re wondering, the venue was Cowichan District Hospital, in Duncan, B.C. We have friends in the medical profession so I know these wonderful people are cloned throughout the health services.m And I’m feeling blessed and thankful.

To those of you who are home inspectors, or anyone really who takes their shoes off on entry to a home every day and wears socks, hear this:

1. Laminates and hardwood are as treacherous as ice if you’re in socks.

2. A broken hip is painful, takes a long time to heal and will put you out of commission for two months or more and, if you get the same pain meds as me, no alcohol or driving for at least six weeks!

Let’s be careful out there!

Harry Bradford