Friday, 13 July 2012

Bedside manners

Demeter was determined that I should attend last Sunday's service at the First Unitarian Church of Victoria. The focus was to be The Bedside Singers, a group of Victoria Hospice volunteers who (when invited) gather in dying patients' rooms to sing them whatever they require and desire. A bonus for me, aside from the fact that I was a volunteer at the Hospice for some years before we left Victoria in 2000, was that I know two of the Bedside Singers quite well, although I hadn't heard of the group which was formed after my departure.

I enjoyed the service enormously, and when I approached them afterwards, the singers told me they'd seen me nodding in recognition of the things they were saying. I, in turn, told them the story of one of the two deaths for which I was present at Hospice.

See, when a patient is near death, you generally go fetch the nurses who usually know the patient and the family better than a volunteer who is only on the unit for three hours once a week. However, after children, I had to take weekend shifts which were quieter, as the administrative and counseling staff and the doctors had gone home. There seemed to be fewer nurses, too, although that can't have been right. One Saturday morning, I was asked to shave a non-responsive gentleman whose partner was on her way in. It was an electric razor, so although I had never shaved anyone before, I set to, softly telling the fellow what I was doing, because we were trained to never assume a patient can't hear.

He stopped breathing shortly before his partner arrived, and about half an hour after I shaved him, I hastily add. The nurse asked me to wait with him while they waylaid the lady to tell her the news. She soon came in, and I introduced myself briefly, asking if she'd like some time alone.

At that very minute, the gentleman breathed in with a noisy gasp. His partner and I nearly leapt into each other's arms. She hurried to his side, and I waited for the next breath. Which didn't come.

The lady looked up at me in tearful triumph.
"He waited for me!"

So, as deaths go, that one was remarkably untraumatic. Still, it's a solemn and unsettling thing to be present at a fellow human being's exit, so I phoned the Resident Fan Boy to warn him, and he was waiting for me at the door when I came home.

"It's a strange feeling," I told him. "It's only the second death I've been at...and the first fellow I ever shaved...."

The Resident Fan Boy could not resist. Striking a melodramatic pose, he warbled: ♪He went to his Maker impeccably shaved!♪

If you don't consider this in bad taste (the Resident Fan Boy has a rather dark sense of humour), here's the reference. (If you do, perhaps you'd better avert your eyes):

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
His skin was pale, his eye was odd
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again...
He trod a path that few had trod
Did Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet Street

He kept a shop in London town
of fancy clients, and good renown.
And what if none of their souls were saved?
They went to their maker impeccably shaved
By Sweeney,
By Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet Street

Swing your razor wide, Sweeney!
Hold it to the skies!
Freely flows the blood of those who moralize...

His needs were few, his room was bare.
A lavabo and a fancy chair.
A mug of suds and a leather strop
an apron, a towel, a pail and a mop.
For neatness he deserves a nod,
does Sweeney Todd,
the demon barber of Fleet Street

Inconspicuous, Sweeney was
Quick, and quiet, and clean he was.
Back of his smile
Under his word
Sweeney heard music that nobody heard.

Sweeney pondered and Sweeney planned
Like a perfect machine he planned
Sweeney was smooth
Sweeney was subtle
Sweeney would blink and rats would scuttle...

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.
He served a dark and a vengeful god.
What happened then? Well that's the play,
And he wouldn't want us to give it away...

Not Sweeney...
Not Sweeney Todd....

The Demon Barber of Fleet...Street...

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