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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
As a carer, there can be very special moments.

Submitted: September 24, 2018

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Submitted: September 24, 2018





Another thin, melting, creamy yellow line slithers down into the valleys of the blue polythene apron. Today, nothing at all seems to want to stay in Sheila’s mouth.

“Shelia, I think we’ll try a larger spoon.” I quietly suggest.

She raises her eyes briefly in reply. No one notices this fractional movement, as Tuesday’s Day Unit lunchtime busies itself to an end with the usual chat and tea. I turn from the kitchen counter with dessert spoon in hand, and there is Sheila, across the room, frail against the framework of her wheel chair. In this very second I truly see her whole existence; confined and crumpled within that chair. It has taken a previous member of staff just under an hour to feed Sheila a bowl of mince and mash, and, right now I am half way through her sweet. It’s that party favourite, jelly and ice cream. Except this is no party.

The ice cream has all but melted, and mashed up strawberry jelly floats apologetically amidst; waiting to come aboard the spoon. But today, when the spoon gets to Sheila’s lips there is no possible way to ease it through her half parted teeth. And, to compound the problem, her chin has once again fallen flat against her chest, so that her mouth is now leaning low. Not five minutes before, I had stood behind her and with my hands on her shoulders, gradually eased her back into a more upright position. Yes, I’m sure I could truss Shelia up, so that the process of feeding would be easier, but Shelia is a woman not a victim.

Another measure of ice cream slides down the apron into the increasing pool at her lap. I pull out a handful of tissues in an effort to soak up the excess, dropping the result into the ever present bin beside her. As I collect up another spoonful, Sheila lifts the palm of her hand momentarily, and shakes her finger in a clear “no more” gesture.

“Ok Shelia,” I acknowledge. “Would you like a sweet drink to keep your energy levels going? We’ve got my Ten Tasty Teasers quiz in fifteen minutes you know”.

Shelia’s hand again says no thank you. She then points a finger at the speech writing machine which is on the table in front of us. This is a small keyboard with a screen, on which a line of typing can be displayed; but it also speaks out the typed message in at robotic monosyllabic tone. It is the first time I have seen Shelia with the machine, and after removing the polythene apron, I carefully rest it on her lap in such a way that she can press the keys whilst still supporting her arms on the sides of the chair.


Sheila has visited the Day Unit just a handful of times and, as she stretches a shaky hand across the keypad, I notice for the first time how beautiful they are. Their proportion is perfect; each finger slender, delicate and ivory smooth. Her nails are well cut and tended, with a healthy sheen.

But her jerky attempts to press the voice mute button bring my mind back to the reality, and I re-adjust the angle of the machine on her lap. At her third attempt the voice is off, and she begins to press out her words. Those beautiful fingers hang like unhelpful limbs from a weeping willow, as she slides them across the keys in search of the next button to press.

With a painful slowness the green letters she is struggling to write appear on the display, inching their way from the right of the screen.


I…………. JUST………….. WANT…………TO………..CURL…….UP…….


I grasp her hand; remove it from the keyboard and, in that same moment, I catch her eyes looking up towards me. Of course, we are both crying. I reach forward to give her the hug she needs and wants, but her position in the wheelchair make that virtually impossible. So I slide down onto my knees beside her and squeeze her hand as if it were the only thing in the world left to hold. This is a world of very brutal reality, where words so often have a hollow ring about them. I search for some truth to tell her.

I lean forward, hoping against hope that what comes out will have some sort of meaning.

With a faint hesitant whisper I start…. “Shelia, I know your body has worn apart, but from the moment I first met you, you shone through all of that, like some warm beacon of kindness from this fractured place. I understand completely why you just needed to say that…. all I want you to know is that I see the whole person, not the broken body.”


She squeezes my hand.


That moment passes, but it lasts; now a tiny but precious part of me.




© Copyright 2019 Mike Gascoigne. All rights reserved.

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