Ah, an ex-patient! I prided myself on remembering people. Lots of folk; patients and sometimes their visitors, even from my first year of training as a nurse, had registered strongly enough that I recalled them and their circumstances years later. I might meet them on a bus (sometimes they insisted on paying my fare) or in shops, at the library, or just walking down the street. Someone might stop me for a chat, or just call out in the passing, even if I wasn’t wearing my tell-tale outdoor uniform of Burberry and matching cap. Quite often the details of our health encounter would come to mind very quickly. Living in the area where you work can be nice or it can be a hazard. Mostly it was positive and I liked the feeling.
My mind was running at speed trying to identify this woman from the clues she’d dropped. We’d met when I was a student, before a community experience placement. That meant third year, and my last ward before that was Female Medical. So . . . six years ago. Because she assumed I would know her it was likely she’d been an in-patient for an extended time, so possibly subjected to a myriad of investigations . . . or maybe she’d been very, very sick. . . . Alright.
Nothing surfaced. Over the years I’d nursed thousands of patients of all ages so it was no mystery that I didn’t remember everyone. But I’d got a technique down to a fine art for the chance meetings when I couldn’t be sure if I’d cared for the person in question, seen them through the Out-Patient conveyor belt, talked to them as a parent or a visitor, delivered their infant, or supported them as an anxious partner during an awkward labour.
A bit like the psychics you see on the television, I’d wait for the person to go on talking which they almost invariably did, or I’d make a general chit-chat comment, playing for time, hoping they’d mention something that told me who I should ask for ― themselves, their partner, family member or child. More often than not I got the context right quite quickly and made the appropriate remarks before we departed, leaving both of us feeling happy with the interaction. People really appreciate being remembered, and I felt the tiny subterfuge was good for public relations with the hospital. Helped to counterbalance the occasional glitches that received publicity and caused community concerns.
But this meeting had felt odd. Clearly she was the patient. Because her talk was so personal I was inhibited from asking her name or seeking another reminder. Then it felt like the moment had passed. In any case, there was no way to get a word in edgeways and as I needed to concentrate on what she was saying, it wasn’t possible to keep totting up the clues. So I nodded and made agreeable noises until Stella came back with her supervisor. The OFW waved as she moved away, and said, “I’ll never forget you Nurse Baker, I hope to see you again. We just sold our home in England so we’re here permanently now.”
Another clue. Not very helpful though ― there’d been many UK patients over the years.
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