Portrait of Change

The pre-Socratic philsopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.535-477B.C.E.) is famous for his insistence on the presence of change in the universe. He encapsulated his philosophy in the now famous saying “No man ever steps into the same river twice.”

Throughout my own life I have seen the truth that everyithing is subject to change and it is, of course a fact of existence. The entire process of living, learning and eventually passing into the next life is a process of real and ongoing change. Hospitals have changed in many ways and what follows are reminiscences of my experiences as what i believe is not referred to as a ‘Health Care Assistant’ but was then termed a ‘Nursing Auxiliary.’
My first day: in accordance with prior instructions I called in at the Matron’s office to collect my uniform. At that time this consisted of a long white coat not unlike coats sometimes worn by Doctors. In those days Matron wa sin Charge and that was that. At times she was assisted by two deputy Matrons. During our initial meeting I was informed as to what was expected of me and Matron established herself to me as someone who was form yet very reasonable and loyal to her staff. Once clothed in my unoform i went to my first ward where I met the Sister in charge and a satff Nurse. In those days there were not the seemngly everlasting tiers of administration that have grown into the National Health Service in a manner similar to ivy clinging to a vine. Everyone from Matron downward had worked on wards themsleves and were highly knowledgeable and experienced. As well as my uniform I had a staff identity badge which read “George Coombs Nursing Auxiliary F/T” this last abbreviation meaning ‘full time and not ’feeling tired’ as one of my colleges was to jokingly suggest.
It was a male medical ward and i worked on it for five years. The ward was staffed by the sister and Satff Nurse, two trained nurses and a ward Orderly with students nurses, at that time, coming and going as part of their training. Our small hospital coped well with several major incidents while I was there and the one that sticks in my mind now was the time when our local town Hall was burned to the ground. the emergency services were superb and casualties were divided between us and two other hospitals in the area. the main problem was the effects of smoke inhalation and one of the casualties my ward took was Mr. Burton the caretaker.
Matron, Sister and the other trained staff were good leaders. I played my part as best i could drawing great strength and support from my colleges After two weeks we saw our casualties improve and they were discharged at times deemed appropriate by the medical staff. Mr Burton was always quiet and withdrawn and woud often sit by himself in the corridor just outside the ward.
Apart from a few quiet, nervous exchanges he would not speak at all unless he had to. This was also noticed by others who tried to persuade him to talk and socialise in some way. I well remember sensing that this was mistaken. People should be allowed to maintain their own counsel if they wish. We help by being their for them excercising what has been called by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, among others “The ministry of presence…”
Mr. Burton was discharged after three weeks. District Nurse cover was arranged. the Twon Hall stood in stark ruins for many months until there came the time for the ruins to be demoloshed in readiness for the construction of a new Town Hall. Within the ruins a body was discovered. it was Mr. Burton, he had taken his own life. A note ewas found in which he accepted personal responsibility for the ooriginal fire that had destroyed the Old Town Hal.
A devastating tragedy for all of us who had known him but especially of course his close friends and relatives. The mental anguish he suffered must have been terrible. His tendency to keep his own counsel became all the more understandable. There will be, of course a lot that i do not know and indeed should not know. Was there anything I or anyone else could have done? What ever the answer may be he is resting now, free at last

George Coombsl

Portrait of Change

George Coombs

Brighton and Hove, United Kingdom

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Artist's Description

Another autobiographical sort of piece

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  • Donna19
  • George Coombs
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