This poem is floating around the Web here and there. According to some, it was found among the "meager possessions" of an old woman who died in the geriatric ward of a Dundee, Scotland hospital, and was later published in the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health.
That all may be apocryphal. I can't find any reference, except in relation to the poem, of the publication or its organization. Those who retrieved the poem did not record the woman's name nor is there a year attached, but that is not important. This is a cry from the heart, whoever wrote it, to not be made invisible in old age.
It would do us all well to remember this poem when we are frustrated by someone old moving too slowly in front of us and when we find ourselves with an older relative or friend whose mind is perhaps not as quick as it once was.
What do you see, nurses, what do you see,
what are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes.
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
when you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
and forever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who, resisting 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, nurse; you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
as I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,
brothers and sisters, who love one another.
A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,
dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty - my heart gives a leap,
remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own
who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,
bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
but my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee,
again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
and I think of the years and the love that I've known.
I'm now an old woman and nature is cruel;
'tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
there is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
and I'm loving and living life over again.
I think of the years - all too few, gone too fast
and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
not a crabby old woman; look closer - see ME!
"Crabbit ", also variously titled "Anyone called Derek", "Look Closer Nurse", "Kate", "Open Your Eyes" or "What Do You See?", is a poem written in 1966 by Phyllis McCormack, then working as a nurse in Sunnyside Hospital, Montrose. The poem is written in the voice of an old woman in a nursing home who is reflecting upon her life. Crabbit is Scots for "bad-tempered" or "grumpy".
The poem appeared in the Nursing Mirror in December 1972 without attribution. Phyllis McCormack explained in a letter to the journal that she wrote the poem in 1966 for her hospital newsletter.
This story was corroborated by an article from the Daily Mail on 12 March 1998, where Phyllis McCormack's son wrote that his mother composed it in the 1960s, when she submitted it anonymously with the title "Look Closer Nurse" to a small magazine intended just for Sunnyside.
The next year, the poem was published in Chris Searle's poetry anthology Elders (Reality Press, 1973), without title or attribution. Subsequently, a wealth of urban legend has sprung up surrounding this humble work. Most of the legend associated with this poem attributes it to a senile elderly woman in a Dundee nursing home (or sometimes an Irish nursing home), where a nurse found it while packing her belongings following her death. Searle himself was quoted in 1998 as saying of the poem's authorship: "I don't think we'll ever know. I accepted it as authentic." (i.e. as the authentic writing of an infirm old woman).
The poem, which paints a rather sad picture of a decrepit woman's final days in care, has been quoted in various works written for and about the caring professions in order to highlight the importance of maintaining the dignity of the lives of elderly patients. It is also included in the EdexcelIGCSEEnglish Literature poetry anthology.
Several variants exist including, "A Nurse's Reply" and "Cranky Old Man". Suggestions this is actually "Too Soon Old" by David L Griffith http://www.spotlightdavid.com/TooSoonOld.html Copyright given as © 1969-1986-1994-2001-2010