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Tom
By
candle_in_the_wind

Tom

Tags: cancer

A chance meeting on a train station.

My nursing career began at the tender age of 17. It was inevitable I suppose. As a child I looked after my siblings when they became ill. Placing cold flannels on their hot foreheads, fetching hot water bottles and applying bandages. Caring for the sick did not stop there. I nursed hedgehogs , birds, anything that needed help.

Many brave souls have touched my heart with their bravery, dignity and serenity. A few have stayed locked in my thoughts 43 years on.

I entered the nursing profession , looking after mentally ill patients. I began my first day on the ward a little anxious, not knowing what was in store for me. I walked a long narrow room, at the end of it, on the floor, was a young child, with a bandaged head. I was told later that his name was Edward. He had featured on a television program... A unique individual whose head was bandaged. It was four times the size it should have been. Edward`s head, I re -call reminded me of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty, although Edward did not have "A bad fall." he used to bang his head on the floor! Edward was doomed to leave this world...perhaps it was for the best. He lived in constant pain and used to suffer terrible headaches. I talked to him gently, read stories to him and tried to communicate. In time Edward and I were friends. He could not speak but many times I would feel my skirt being tugged, a small hot hand would be pushed into mine and Edward would guide me to his bed on the ward and lie down. I sat on the chair holding his hand trying to give him comfort by speaking to him. When I thought he was asleep I would return to the ward, only to feel my skirt being tugged by Edward. And we started the procedure again! Sadly I was transferred and I heard that Edward had died after massive internal bleeding. I felt very sad but relieved that Edward was out of such, excruciating pain. No child should have to suffer like that.

I found myself in surgery . In the operating theatre. I experienced, minor surgery, stomach ulcers, varicose veins and amputations. One morning I was asked to talk to a patient on the trolley, as the anesthetist was delayed. I approached a small man; elderly. He was obviously very nervous and I re-assured him to the best of my ability. We talked about his garden, his grandchildren and his wife. Helen (he informed me) had been his childhood sweetheart, his soul mate. We talked about everything but not the amputation.

"Will you be there?" he asked me.

I told him I would be there. The anesthetist arrived and eventually the patient was wheeled into theatre. The operation went smoothly, no complications. A few days later I went down to the Surgical and inquired after the patient. I was informed he had passed away the previous night. His heart had given out. I was devasted. I thought of his wife and Grandchildren. I thought of his garden. I felt sick. I wanted to run away forget sickness, forget dying. But, as the saying goes." Life and death go hand in hand." Many people did not die, and I could comfort them.

A year later I joined the British Army. My time in the army was fun. Even though I was a nurse I still had to do the basic training and I loved it. I passed my exams and I was sent to an army hospital. I nursed Cancer patients and often marveled at their dignity and acceptance. I often wondered why they didn`t scream the place down with anger and frustration. Instead a couple of the male patients teased me and caused me to blush and I enjoyed my time with them. How brave they were. Laughter is infectious and it certainly infected us all on that ward!

After being on night for two weeks I would be allowed ten days leave. I would go home or sometimes visit other parts of the UK. I enjoyed train travel and met many interesting people. My fellow passengers seemed to open up to me, especially when I told them I was a nurse. I listened to the details of operations, injuries etc.: but it passed the time. It was on a train station that I was to meet a man who made a huge impact on me. I shall never forget him.

I was going home for ten days. I had arrived at the station to find my train was delayed by an hour. I had already been travelling for five hours and I was tired. I decided to go to the cafe for a coffee. I ordered my coffee and sat down at the empty table by the window. By the window I was able to people watch ( a favorite past time of mine).

I had been watching for about ten minutes, when a voice jolted me out of my reverie. I looked up into the face of an elderly gentleman . He had the kindest eyes I had ever seen and he was smiling. "Is this seat taken ? May I sit down?"

"It is not taken . Yes you can sit down." I said, smiling.

He started chatting to me about the train delays. He had noticed earlier that I had been people watching. He did it too; most people did. We talked about the weather and we seemed to warm to each other. I felt I had known him all my life. He told me his name was Tom. He was travelling to places he had never been before. " I am trying to visit all these counties." He said, producing a list.

"Goodness! You will be busy and very tired." I said.

"I won't be tired , I have a long time to rest." replied Tom.

"I am terminally ill. I have 6 months to live."

I went cold. I wanted to cry. I knew I had to be professional. After all I had done it many times."Tom, I am so sorry." He smiled at me and his eyes smiled as well. Those serene , gentle , kind eyes. I leant forward and cupped his hand in mine. The loudspeaker announced my train. I told time it was time for me to go. Tom stood up.

"Wait there a few moments." he said.

He rushed off. I waited ten minutes. My train arrived at the platform I couldn't wait. I left the cafe and walked to the train. I was about to step aboard when a hand grabbed my arm. It was Tom." These are for you." he said. " For listening to a boring old man." Tom thrust a box of chocolates in my hand.

"You didn`t bore me Tom, God Bless you." I kissed him on the cheek. He smiled his lovely illuminating smile. I stepped aboard . The train lurched forward and started pulling out of the station . Tom stood waving goodbye and I stood waving back. We waved until we lost sight of one another. I discovered my cheeks were wet with tears. I moved from the window and looked for a seat. I found one empty, by the window. I looked down at the box of chocolates in my hand. On the front was a picture of a beautiful white swan. The tears fell. The swan reminded me of Tom. An angel on earth... I often thought of him, and when I returned to the hospital. I stood on the station where we met. Forty two years on, Tom stands on that station waving goodbye to me and smiling. God Bless you Tom, for showing a young girl what bravery and dignity is. I shall never forget you.

A True Story.

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