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Adults highly commended A Nurse's Presence By Audrey Maclean

Many thoughts race through my mind, as I hold the old man's wrinkled hand,
Will he even know I'm here, feel my hand, or sense my fear?

I sit beside his hospital bed and try to clear my busy head
He lies supine in front of me as I re-focus my thoughts respectfully.

Wondering ... what kind of life he led? Did he ever fall in love, get wed?
Did he make his dreams come true, or were his days spent sad and blue?

I watch his chest rise up and down, ribs tight against his borrowed gown,
Counting breaths, ...watching, ...waiting. Time stands still......contemplating.

I'm glad he's not here on his own, no one deserves to die alone.
I try to make him know I'm here- I squeeze his hand with gentle care.

What did he hope for? What was his job? Did he have a cat or dog?
What football team did he support, or was rugby more his favoured sport?

I scan his face, he's pale and thin. I look for clues etched on his skin,
He's not in pain, this I know. Surely... it's his time to go.

The sands of time drain out before us. The magnitude of this... enormous.
Has he made his peace with God? Is he ready for the road ahead?

I want to ask him this last question, but it's too late now for intercession.
He passes, as I hold his hand, there are no more grains of sand.

I find it hard to pull away and fight the urge to hold, and stay.
I am privileged to play my part- witness to a life depart.

Judge Charles Durante comments:

Adults Highly Commended: Audrey Maclean with A Nurse’s Presence. One of the hardest things about a Covid-19 death is that the patient dies without the comfort and presence of loved ones. Death is the extreme test and it has to be faced alone. Well, not quite alone: the nursing staff are there and offer some kind of love and support.

This very moving, poignant poem is the testimony of a caring nurse and her thoughts and feelings at the moment when a patient she has cared for professionally, selflessly and altruistically, dies. Inevitably, she tries to conjure up what sort of life he’s led. A gentle squeeze of the hand is all she can do to reassure him he’s not alone; they share a common humanity and the nurse instinctively knows even extreme suffering can be lightened when shared.

The nurse’s loving care even extends to her patient’s post-mortem journey: is he ready? She feels overwhelmed by a sense of ethical responsibility-she is, in a way, a surrogate for a loved one, a privilege she is fully conscious of.

This is one of the most moving poems I have read in a long time. All the lines have a caesura, so that two thoughts are bound together in one musical line. The internal rhymes are unobtrusive and sound natural.

The final alliterative line brings the poem to a satisfactory conclusion. This is an excellent piece of work, much needed in our troubled times. It is almost certainly based on real experience.

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