Sunday, 13 January 2013

First impressions

At 5 years old, back in 1973 I found myself in the sick children's ward of Dundee Royal Infirmary.  This was long before someone realised that kids could really do with having their parents with them in hospital, so it was a pretty scary place to be.  I had osteomyelitis in my knee so I was on bed rest, and getting pumped full of anti-biotics which left me feeling quite sick.  As I lay in my bed I could see kids going into the play room pulling toys out, squabbling over who had rights over which toy.  I was quite shy back then and as a result I didn't feel I was missing out on getting into the playroom - I reckon that even if I'd had permission to move around I'd have stayed in bed away from the others.
There was one nurse with jet black hair, a lady who would come over to my bed carrying a range of cuddly toys, Lego figures and dolls.  I'd see her coming and I'd pull the sheet over my head and try to turn myself onto my tummy, but with my knee being so painful that wasn't easy.  As I lay there awkwardly she'd sneak one of the toys under the sheet and start speaking saying, "Hello!  My name's Dolly and I just wanted to play with you.."  Initially I would turn my face away, but I also remember holding the sheet tightly over my head, hoping the nurse wouldn't notice that I was in fact turning round to see the doll's face.  The kind nurse was persistent, and over a 6 week period, whenever she was on duty at some point of her shift she would go through the same procedure with the toys.  Then the breakthrough day came - I'm not sure how it happened but I saw her coming and decided to just stay propped up in bed and not dive under the sheet.  Children are very observant and at 5 years old I was no exception.  I remember strange details about that kind bringer of toys.  She had quite dry skin on her hands, her whole face smiled and beamed at me constantly, and when she turned her head her hair moved like a ballerina's skirt.  I remember getting a feeling in my tummy that said, "I like you."
To this day I think about Nurse Thankappan (yes, I even remember her name!) and wonder why she never gave up on me.
That experience also taught me to be persistent and not always believe the behaviour someone displays on the first meeting as being the truth about them.   When someone is scared, in pain, unsure, alone or frightened they often don't trust that it's okay to give someone else the chance to help or support them.  They can seem grumpy, demanding or challenging - but fear can present itself in many guises.  Take time to really get to know the person.  You never know, you might get the reward of a breakthrough day just as Nurse Thankappan did back in 1973.
"Don't be over self-confident with your first impression of people." - Chinese proverb.
"A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence." - Jim Watkins.


  1. This is so true and inspiring. I could read these true events for ages. Thank you Kathleen.