A nurses reply
to a "Crabbit Old Woman"
OUR recent reprint of the
Crabbit Old Woman poem resulted in a great deal of interest.
Two readers wrote to us enclosing A Nurses’ Reply, which we reprint here.
Lee Hamilton, rehab worker at South Downs Health, wrote:
"This poem is in fact an urban myth, and was in fact written by a 1960’s
poet called Phyllis McCormack,
after her experiences as a ward nurse".
The poem has had many titles since its "discovery" and
has had a reply written by a ward nurse, Lee says.
"One must say though that the truth of the poem’s
beginnings does not and should not diminish from its content and meaning and we
still should take note of the message."
And a trawl through the world wide web reveals just how many
people would agree with Lee’s final comment.
Claire Anderson, a staff nurse on Blanche Ward at the children’s
hospital, also wanted to find out whether there had been a reply to The Crabbit
Old Woman poem.
Her researches came up with name of Liz Hogben, although Bruni
Abbott of Prince Henry’s Hospital, Melbourne is also cited
sometimes as the author, she says.
What do we see, you ask,
what do we see?
Yes, we are thinking when looking at thee!
We may seem to be hard when we hurry and fuss,
But there’s many of you, and too few of us.
We would like far more time to sit by you and talk,
To bath you and feed you and help you to walk.
To hear of your lives and the things you have done;
Your childhood, your husband, your daughter, your son.
But time is against us, there’s too much to do -
Patients too many, and nurses too few.
We grieve when we see you so sad and alone,
With nobody near you, no friends of your own.
We feel all your pain, and know of your fear
That nobody cares now your end is so near.
But nurses are people with feelings as well,
And when we’re together you’ll often hear tell
Of the dearest old Gran in the very end bed,
And the lovely old Dad, and
the things that he said,
We speak with compassion and love, and feel sad
When we think of your lives
and the joy that you’ve had,
When the time has arrived for you to depart,
You leave us behind with an ache in our heart.
When you sleep the long sleep, no more worry or care,
There are other old people, and we must be there.
So please understand if we hurry and fuss -
There are many of you,
And so few of us.
Get a print
Look closer on film
The Crabbit Old Woman poem
keeps in the news with the
release of a new short film by Amanda Waring.
Taking a line from the poem What Do You See? it is
designed to raise
awareness of the way society treats older people.
The film takes a journey through a day in the life of stroke
victim Elsie, played by Virginia McKenna, OBE.
Amanda, who directed the film, says: "This has been a very
personal project. My hopes are that this film will be seen around the world by
nurses, doctors, care workers, schools, hospital trusts and governments so that
the message of the film can be implemented in a real and practical way.
"Elsie craves compassion and understanding of the person
she is inside rather than the useless ‘carcass’ she may appear on the
"Elsie makes a heartfelt but a silent plea to her carers to
‘Look closer … see … me …’
"Both Virginia and I hope the film will ensure a kinder,
future for us all, for we shall all be old one day."