Crabbit Old Woman, and reply

According to the internet, ‘Crabby Old Man’ is based on a poem written by the poest Phyllis McCormack (d. c. 1988), who wrote it while she was working in a nursing home in Sunnyside Hospital in Montrose in the 1960s (wikipedia page). She wrote it anonymously and published it in the hospital newspaper. Since then it has become world famous, but her name is often not attached to it. So in fact it seems it was written by a nurse! Also, a nurse has written a reply. Here is the (supposed) original, and the reply.

Crabbit Old Woman / Who is really inside?

What do you see nurse, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me?

A crabbit old person, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far away eyes,
Who dribbles food, and makes not reply,
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe
Who, unresisting or not, lets you do as you will
with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.

Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?

Then open your eyes, you’re not looking at me
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I move at your bidding; as I eat at your will.

Dark days are upon me, my mate is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all busy rearing young of their own
And I think of the years and the love I have known.

I’m an old person now and nature is cruel,
Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.

The body it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
And now there is a stone where once had a heart.

But inside my old carcass a young person still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.

I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, nurse, open and see,
Not a crabbit old person, look closer, see Me.

By Phyllis McCormack

And the reply:

A Nurse’s reply ” To the ‘Crabbit Old Woman”

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.



About B.B.

I'm based in York.
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