I had a slightly surreal day yesterday.
Firstly I visited a friend’s elderly mother in the same hospital ward my Mum was in last year. Bad memories came flooding back as I once again saw the good, the bad and the ugly of the NHS, the hideousness of growing old and the way some members of the caring profession choose to treat the elderly.
From there I took my mum to say goodbye to her hairdresser of forty-five years - the end of an era as she retires.
Picture this … a tiny, slightly tired and dated hair salon which caters to the blue rinse and curly perm brigade - to the ladies of a certain age who like to be coiffed to within an inch of their lives and then attacked with a full tin of hairspray to keep their set in place for the week ahead. A place where equally tiny and tired great grandmothers go to have their morale boosted as they are made to feel glam again.
As I sat, sipping my dry sherry in a 1920’s glass, I witnessed another side of caring. My mother’s hairdresser is 72, sprightly and finishing a job she clearly adored. She treated every lady with the same love and compassion. As did the lovely and incredibly camp 60 year old shampooist as he shimmied and sashayed his way around the rollers and the 1950’s driers, a camouflaged man bag strapped diagonally across his chest.
I watched them manoeuvre a client of approximately 110 (!) in her wheelchair to the sink and then to the mirror to set her approximately 3 (!) yellow hairs on her head as her orange make-up and clogged mascara dripped down her tiny bird-like face. They joked with her as her husband (also 110!) sat beside her wearing his wife’s string of pearls around his grubby blazer to keep them safe. She giggled at their banter like a little girl, her voice sounding like she’d sucked all the helium out of a Minnie Mouse balloon. She was being made to feel important, fussed over and, in her eyes, she would leave that salon looking like Marilyn Monroe.
I could have sat and watched forever. She was clearly once a young vibrant woman, attractive in her day, and I began to weave stories of her past life in my head.
But it was the joy of watching people who care so much about what they do and the people they do it for.
I left the salon feeling saddened that my mother has had to say goodbye to her weekly confidante, but buoyed by seeing people doing a job they truly love.
Getting old is a horrible thing but, if we’re fortunate enough, we all go through it. The nursing staff who don’t do their jobs with love in their hearts would do well to remember that and to take a leaf out of my mother’s hairdresser’s book. OK, wiping bottoms isn’t as glamorous as titivating someone’s hair but it was the job they chose.
Happy 2015 to all those who care - and to those who don’t, your time will come.