To move Alice you had to sit her up
and steady her till MS relaxed its grip
exercise her knees till they flexed limp
then position the strap
and call for help –
Together now lift, swivel
careful she’s stiffening…
don’t let her slide to the floor!
I daydreamed while I fed Anna porridge
till one morning she sprang to life
flailing her long, bony hand
squawking rusty gibberish.
as if from a trapped bird
went all heat and heart-pound
perspiration pricking my armpits
Cunning Mary ruled from her wheelchair.
In the bathroom she did quick tight turns
with precision and the speed that said,
Get out of my way; I know what I’m doing.
When I was on evenings
and getting her ready for bed
she gossiped about the other nurses
You are better, she’d say.
Without her teeth
she looked just like a witch.
Sarah was always expecting
her mother for tea.
waiting for me right now, she’d mutter
as she stuffed her water glass with napkins
and crumbled toast
into her bedside drawer.
One night when I came on shift
there was a new woman on the ward.
In the photo beside her bed
was a smiling grandma
surrounded by family.
At 2:00 a.m. her breathing
was slow, hard, rattly.
At 6:00 a.m. she was silent.
I was still weak and shaky
a few hours later
when I climbed into bed
and it wasn’t all fatigue.