Nursing Voices

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Abandoned House

Photographs by Mother Jones, RN

A bag lady is talking to herself as she sits on a park bench. She hears and sees things that you and I don’t hear or see. She looks strange and tattered as people rush by her, barely noticing her existence. A Chicago policeman pulls his car over to the curb. It is ten degrees below zero outside, and she willingly gets into his car when he asks her if she wants to get out of the cold. She doesn’t speak. The voices are telling her to stay quiet, and she complies with their commands. She is brought to the hospital, and I am her nurse. Strangely, she reminds me of an abandoned house. Like the dilapidated Victorian houses that line the streets where she lives, the shopkeepers and other residents of her neighborhood view her as an eyesore, but if you look closely, you will see her beauty and strength. Once gracious and handsome, her frame is now weathered and old, and yet, even after many years of neglect and adversity, she is still standing on a strong foundation. She has not crumbled away.

She sat and stared at me as I tried unlocking the secrets of her life. Trying to get inside of her head was like trying to crack open a door that was bolted shut. She wouldn’t let me in. I had no idea what the voices were telling her, or what wisdom she had learned out on the streets. I thought that perhaps she was refusing her medications because she didn’t want the voices to go away. The voices may have been her only friends. I knew she had a history, and maybe a family, but now all of that was lost in time.

She followed me closely as I made my rounds on the unit. Her dark brown eyes tracked my every movement. Perhaps I reminded her of someone, a daughter, a sister, or a friend she once knew. She also liked sitting in the unit’s kitchenette. I wondered if she had enjoyed cooking at one time, and that by sitting there, she was transported back to a happier time. Sometimes she responded to the voices by calling out names. “I said stop that, Hank. Sarah, come here! ” Once I thought I heard her calling her children to come into the house for supper. One morning she came to me and pointed to the unit door. The weather was starting to warm up and she wanted to leave the hospital. The doctor wrote a discharge order, and the social worker gave her a token for the bus. I gave her my sack lunch. She smiled and patted me on the cheek before returning to the streets. I’ve seen so many other bag ladies throughout the years, and every time I look at them, I see another abandoned house with a story waiting to be told.


Blogger JustCallMeJo said...

Lovely images, MJ. Rough like wood grain dried in the sun. Sad and warm.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

A well written post with images.

3:38 PM  
Blogger MadMike said...

What a great post MJ! I read it several times and then mailed it to several friends. The consensus is clear: You need to be writing a book! You are quite skilled at turning the phrase.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Serial Filler said...

Yes, indeed -- a book, a movie, a TV mini-series. But wait! Mother Jones would be busy making personal appearances, autographing books, and meeting with her financial advisors. She would have to give up her job. Then what would happen to her patients? Not everyone can see the beauty in an ancient, unkempt house.

MJ, I am grateful that you are able to maintain your sense of humour in the face of so much pain. You lift me up!

4:43 PM  
Blogger RX850 said...

Very moving post and so well written. I can picture her easily and it makes me feel good that she found someone with compassion to look after her for a while.

4:43 PM  
Blogger poody said...

I know what you mean I try to "dr" the homeless when I am out on the streets. I worry about their poor feet. They all live in their shoes and all have trench foot. I carry a bath basin,bottle of betadine and lotion along with some water. I will wash their feet and then give them some clean socks. It isn't much but I do what I can. Some of them will let me do it and some of them like your lady are afraid to let me touch them. I know that if were not for the love of my family and friends I too could easily be that person. I do not however think I could work with the mentally ill on a daily basis although I sometimes feel I do anyways!Loved the post by the way.How 'bout them bears??

4:50 PM  
Blogger jaz said...

Child, such abandoned houses can be found in cities all across this great nation of ours.

And day after day, people walk right on by them without noticing, or caring, what's inside.

Would that there were more MJs around to look closer but - oh, yeah, that would require actually providing funding for public, preventive, and mental health care.

5:05 PM  
Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

This is really very good.

My old office was west of Michigan Avenue, not far west of the Chicago and State subway stop.

We had a lot of people getting off there to go to Northwestern to get their meds. If they went east they got to the hospital, got their meds and went about their business. But sometimes they went the other way....

8:03 PM  
Blogger Bohemian Road Nurse... said...

She might have been an angel in disguise, visiting to give you love and encouragement....

10:03 PM  
Blogger Deacon Barry said...

This post definitely comes under the heading 'inspirational'. The images complement the words, underlining your mataphor. One for Change of Shift I think.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous may said...

i agree. the stories that are left untold are always the stories that either warm our hearts or just lift our spirits.

great pictures by the way.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Lea said...

Beautifully told and shown. I love how you capture the house by'looking' up to it with respect, just like you showed to your patient.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Shrinked Immaculate said...

Nice work

3:47 AM  
Blogger The Angry Medic said...

Another brilliant post, Mama Jones. The comparison to a Victorian house is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And the images--I never knew you were such a good photographer. Serial Filler is right--this is book material.

Sorry about the delay in my response, it's a horrible week over here. Aww, thanks for your kind words! They made my day. I'd be honoured to be included in Change of Shift.

I'll be back!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Student Nurse Jack said...

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Thank you for the modeling you provide to up-and-coming nurses. When I grow up I want to be you.

2:15 PM  
Blogger hipparchia said...

i followed claude scales' link over here from his wretched refuse post. nice place you got here.

i adore old houses. i've lived for years now in old run-down neighborhoods.

twenty ro so years ago, i lived in one neighborhood of crumbling old victorian houses, with homeless people living in the basement, in the huge old shrubbery in the back yard, and in the park down the street.

that neighborhood has since undergone a terrific renaissance. this has been fantastic for the old houses, once again loved and lived in and taken care of. but it's become a very fashionable and expensive neighborhood. i suspect that none of these new homeowners let people live in the backyards and basements any longer.

2:54 AM  
Blogger Dancing on the ceiling said...

I love this post and the warm description of the mystery of life lived differently.

10:41 AM  
Blogger The Mental said...

You are a very kind and compassionate nurse. I already see that in your posts...your patients are indeed lucky to be cared for by you. And yes, you handled the BPD patient acting out perfectly! [referenced in the previous blog post]

"They" say that psych nurses usually go wacko themselves after several years since they are surrounded by crazy people all the forget how to interact with the Outsiders. We start to rub off on you all?! (HA! I love it. It is contagious you know...) VBG So the question is: how have you stayed sane all after all these years? [28 right?]I have observed psych nurses crazier than I before so I know there is some truth to the saying.

11:32 PM  
Blogger MadMike said...

OK! So when is the book coming out? How about the movie? You have a great talent MJ. Please nurture it and know I know from whence I speak..:-)

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like this in regard to many of the oldies that I care for in our aged care section of our hospital, particularly those with communication difficulties or dementia. What threads make up the tapestry of their lifetimes? So often, they can only recall single threads; other sections of their lives has been worn away, leaving the picture fragmented and incomplete. I wish I had known them when the threads were being sewn......

Sorry about posting anonymously, but I am having trouble posting as I'm a Beta blogger these days, and I lose my comment if I sign in through google after writing...

Thank you for your continued excellence MJ. You know there is more than one book waiting. You love words too much <3
Cyndy ;)

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved the visionary of your site.
I feel we are like sistas!

7:10 PM  
Blogger Balaji said...

Wonder struck by this moving story. Simply great and well matched with an appropriate photograph.

Dr. B

7:04 AM  

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