Ratched benevolence: The curse of a nurse that actually turned out to be pretty darn kind

She reminded me of Nurse Mildred from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with the same sort of military-like discipline and no-nonsense attitude.

Back in the day (as in two months ago), it was my work KPIs that use to keep me awake at night. Wondering, would I manage to meet my quota for the day, would I even top the list of most-read articles this time?

Now, it’s the head matron at my dad’s hospital ward, where he is currently being kept as he fights stage 4 cancer. And let me tell you, she is a beast of a woman.

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She reminds me of Nurse Mildred from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with the same sort of military-like discipline and no-nonsense attitude. I call her Nurse Mean’dred.

She is tough and strict, and always on the go.

Mushy mush

Ever since we discovered that my dad is not able to eat the hospital food and can only eat mushed-up, baby-like processed food, she has been having me bring in meals for lunch and supper.

And if I stroll in the slightest bit late with the food bag, she is on my case. Usually, around 15 minutes before meal times, she calls my number and passive-aggressively asks: “Where are you dear, do you want your father to starve?”

Of course, my KPIs haven’t gone anywhere, so in seeing to those, I am always late. “I’m on my way,” I tell her, and I can almost hear her rolling her eyes at me through the phone in disbelief.

I’m always on my way. Feels like I spend such a good portion of my life now ‘on my way’.

Four bites?!

The trek to the hospital is a long one, with unforgiving Sandton CBD traffic. It’s a bit of a battle to get through and sometimes my dad only eats four bites before he refuses to eat anything more.

“All this way just for four bites,” I cry, and she tells me that four bites are better than nothing. “It’s the difference between starvation and satiety in his state,” she says.

With the cancer now spread to his brain, severely affecting his ability to communicate, she drills into me the notion that it is better to ‘overcompensate’ than to fall short.  

Reminding myself that there was a time when both my dad and late mum were in this very same predicament with a non-verbal being to whom they had to feed mushed-up food (that sometimes only took two bites and spat it all out) I bring myself to do it.

All of it. The late-night hospital runs, doctors’ appointment, forking out for the expensive nappies that won’t cause a rash, visiting four Checkers stores to find the right flavour juice boxes, using my last bit of energy to wash and rewash soiled clothes – all of it. I mean, they did all of it without complaining right? All while also working the 9 to 5.

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So I do it. I get home, whip out the smaller pot, start chopping veggies, cook them to a pulp and then put it all in the food processor with a generous dollop of butter, ready for the next schlep.

Meanwhile, I’ve been living on coffee, energy drinks and two-minute noodles -not complaining. I love the person who invented two-minute noodles – they deserve a medal.

Then this happened.

Spoon full of goodness

Yesterday, at lunchtime, as I scooped up the last bit of mush onto a spoon to offer my dad a mouthful, I watched the head matron make her way into the private hospital room with a feeding tray and the cup with his medication.

“Oh, I don’t know if he would eat the hospital food,” I tell her, trying so hard to make sure it doesn’t come off as attitude, for she will have my head if there is any hint of such.

“This is for him,” she says motioning to the pills. “And this is for you. When last did you eat a proper meal?” she asked.

The answer: At a Nedbank media event where the communications team forced me to ‘take it easy for a moment’. That moment was on Thursday. But I wasn’t going to tell her that.

“I had breakfast,” I reply.

She clicked her tongue at me in obvious disbelief.

“You have to eat good, to take good care of him,” she said. “Sit here and eat. I’m coming back to see.”

Turns out, Nurse ‘Mean’dred’ was using her sharp edged personality for the well-being of everyone.  

Extremely moved by this gesture, I immediately felt I could forgive her for the times she terrorised me.

The kindness of others. It’s the currency I am using to pay my way through this life now.

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