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D.J. Ludlow

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Mr Abernethy's Day Out
By D.J. Ludlow
Thursday, May 22, 2003

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It seemed like a routine nursing assignment but Pam was about to meet Mr Abernethy, and that was going to change a lot of things!

"Welcome to Ward D nurse Cottrell," the Ward Sister peered over the tops of her glasses. Something in the hurried, business-like manner of the Sister told Pam she had just received the only welcoming speech she was going to get to her new ward. The Sister consulted her voluminous schedules before giving a slight smile. "We might introduce you to Mr Abernethy. He's in room 7 but right now he's enjoying some time out in the courtyard with a member of his family. Visiting time is just finishing, could you please go and retrieve Mr Abernethy and get him back into bed?" Pam turned efficiently and was about to head off when the Sister had an afterthought. "Oh, by the way, Mr Abernethy is wheelchair bound so he will need your help to get undressed and back into bed."

The badge on her uniform said 'Nurse Cottrell' but to Pam the designation was more than a job description - it was a mission statement. For her it went far beyond mere dedication to her work. Pam appreciated her importance in the lives of those in her care. She was the protector and defender of the weak and incapacitated. The comforter and aide of the sick and disabled. A mother could not care more for her children than Pam cared for her patients. As she entered the courtyard her eyes scouted for her target before zeroing in on an old man in a wheelchair next to a rather handsome, muscular young man sitting on one of the park benches near the centre of the courtyard. As she approached Pam took the opportunity to give the young man an appreciative "once over". After all she wasn't a nurse 24/7 and even a "mother" appreciated being treated as a woman too. "Must be his son," she deduced as her eyes took in the rippling biceps and pectorals that gave a pleasing shape to his maroon polo shirt. She noticed the face was "Movie Star" handsome but something about his eyes spoke of a haunting loneliness and hunger for something unattainable. Slipping, somewhat regretfully, back into 'professional' mode Pam glanced toward the elderly man in the wheelchair. He was fast asleep.

"Mr Abernethy?", Pam asked the young man, raising her eyebrows in query. The man, who had been looking toward a group of young women at the far end of the courtyard turned at the sound of her voice. "Yes," he said automatically. Inclining her head toward the wheelchair Pam assumed her best professional voice. "I'm his nurse and I have to take him back now. You're his son I assume? Pam could have sworn a brief flash of anger swept over the young man's face before being quickly masked. "Huh, yeah," the young man looked over toward the wheelchair, "may as well" he continued in a dispassionate voice, " it's getting kind of boring sitting here watching the old man snore his head off. Besides it is incredible how much even just being next to a wheelchair cramps your style. Do you realise I've been sitting on this bench for an hour or more and your the first person to even say 'boo' to me - and that's only because it's your job. At least if you take the old coot with you I might stand a chance of some adult conversation around here. Never know, might even get lucky!" He nodded in the direction of the bevy of young women sitting on the grass at the far end of the courtyard having lunch.

Taken aback and somehow saddened by the sudden tirade something that had been stirring somewhere deep in the recesses of Pam, the woman, retreated. But something inside "Nurse Cottrell" immediately sprung to the defensive - but not enough to lose her professional demeanour. "I'm sorry you feel like that but your father can't help the way he is. He deserves your understanding and consideration." Pam prided herself in never ever using the word 'pity' when talking about patients. "Now more than ever he needs your support and patience. You should be grateful for all that he's done for you. Now it is your turn to repay him for some of that and just be thankful your not the one in the wheelchair." The young man visibly softened. "Yeah, I know your right and believe me I really do appreciate all that he has done for me. It's just that damned wheelchair. The condescending way people treat you and ignore you. They don't even take the time to get to know you properly. People in wheelchairs deserve better than that." Having nursed several patients in wheelchairs before Pam couldn't argue that one. "Perhaps they just don't know how to deal with the special needs of the disabled. Perhaps you could help educate them," Pam suggested helpfully. "No!" The young man's anger erupted again. "See! Even you don't understand. It's not about their special needs. Everybody sees their special needs." The young man's anger ejected like a spent bullet shell and there was something infinitely sad in the vacuum it left. "It's their common needs that people don't see," he almost whispered. Pam looked at the young man not daring to break the intensely private reverie into which he briefly fell. Aware of her respectful silence he looked up. "They become "patients", "cases", "the sick", "the disabled" - and they cease to be who they really are. They never stop being who they are - people just no longer see them."

Having let it out the young man's anger dissipated and suddenly cheering up he beamed up at Pam. "But you are right! I am not the one in the wheelchair am I, and I should try and repay Dad a little for all he has done for me." He glanced lovingly over at his sleeping father. "Listen these visits are pretty exhausting for Dad as you can see. Try not to wake him up just take him back up and tuck him into bed." The young man paused as he eyed Pam appreciatively with a sparkle in his eye, "I think he'd like that - I know I would!" Pam was momentarily flustered by the openly flirtatious and forward comment, but not altogether displeased and something inside Pam, the woman, stirred anew. "If he does wake up just tell him not to worry and I just decided to stick around here for a while and try my luck - he'll understand. Tell him," the young man paused looking for the right words, "tell him, he looked like he really needed a rest and I thought he might appreciate waking up to a pretty, young nurse rather than my ugly dial." Pam felt the blush rising to her cheeks and hoped it was covered by her makeup. "Remind him of our family motto - make the most of every opportunity - he'll understand." Pam certainly hoped he would understand because she didn't. What she did understand was that she needed to get Mr Abernethy back pronto so she promised and carefully wheeled him back toward the entrance. Pam mentally reviewed her assessment of the young man and decided she quite liked him even if she could not always understand him. In fact she quietly hoped he might still be around 'trying his luck' when she finished her shift.

Pam managed to get her 'friend' (she had decided already to stop thinking of them as patients - such was the extent to which she had taken the young man's comments to heart) back upstairs, changed, and into bed without waking him. For the rest of her shift Pam found it hard to pass a window without taking a quick peek outside so when Mr Abernethy awoke dazed and confused a little later on Pam was able to assure him that his son was actually still in the courtyard engaging in lively conversation with a seemingly never ending succession of young ladies. Pam didn't know whether to be annoyed or happy that he was at least a 'ladies' man and not something else. Pam dutifully passed on the young man's cryptic messages. Mr Abernethy sat listening with a somewhat puzzled look until she recited the 'family motto' back to him. After a few moments of deep thought enlightenment flooded his face and he settled down to a steady afternoon of requests before eventually succumbing to sleep again.

Pam stood in the doorway of the Sister's office. "Just letting you know my shift is over and I'm off. That Mr Abernethy sure likes his creature comforts doesn't he? At least he's sleeping now. By the way I could find where he usually keeps his false teeth so I just placed them on the side table under a clean facecloth." The Ward Sister who had been absently listening whilst attending some paperwork suddenly looked up. "False Teeth? Mr Abernethy doesn't have false teeth." Then a light went on. "Where's the young man he was with?" Pam rushed to the window and peered down into the courtyard. With a vast amount of relief, and a surprising amount of annoyance, she saw him still sitting on the park bench happily chatting to yet another pretty young lass. "There he is," Pam blurted out, " there on the park bench, that's him." The Ward Sister parted the slats on the other side of the blind and looked down. A laughing eye peeked out from a crack in her professional demeanour. "I can't wait to hear your report on this first thing in the morning but for the moment Nurse Cottrell, that young man down there is your patient. Could you kindly retrieve him before you leave and get him back to bed?" Pam was utterly confused. "If that is Mr Abernethy who did I undress and put to bed?" "That," replied the Sister in a barely controlled voice, "I dare say is his 78 year old widowed - and probably, at the moment, equally happy - father. They really are as bad as one another."

Pam looked back down into the courtyard. Suddenly she realised that sitting there on the bench she was seeing him. Just him - and she liked what she saw. She understood him now in a way a thousand ward visits would never achieve. He was who he had always been, a fun loving, handsome young man. Full of life and with so much to offer. She understood why he hated the wheelchair. He was dependent on it. Without it he could not go out into the world. But it stopped him from entering the world of others. It got stuck in the doorways of their lives and they seemed unwilling to widen them. Would it have got stuck in her doorway? All she knew is that it wouldn't now. Suddenly it seemed such a small thing to make room for.

Eventually a coy smile crept back onto her lips. Obviously she was going to have to revise her mission statement. 'Mother' just was not going to fit their relationship.

D.J. Ludlow Copyright 2002.

       Web Site: An Island Place

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Reviewed by Linda Hill 7/8/2003
Loved this, D.J.
I worked in a nursing home for
eight yrs. There is alot of
sadness there. I must say
your write painted a lovely

Reviewed by Kay P Devenish 5/26/2003
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 5/23/2003
Compassion-filled tale of hope and love among the infirm and the able-bodied! loved this tale so much; enjoyed~ love, your friend, karen lynn in texas. (((HUGS))) :)
Reviewed by Elaine Carey 5/22/2003
Absolutely wonderful! I worked in a nursing home for 3 years--all you say is true. The romantic twist was cleverly done.

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