As a voluntary nurse, I sometimes have, through the work of Street Nurses, interesting meetings with people who live there.
Seated in front of supermarkets, sleeping in tube and train stations, alone or in groups, roaming through streets and avenues we take every day, homeless people are part of our daily existence.
They’re often in the same spots and recognise the passers-by. But we don’t always notice them. Immersed in our daily activities, thinking about the things to do that day, and conditioned by our habits, we can walk past them without seeing them.
I don’t think that, without Street Nurses, I would have ever been aware of Mrs. D, huddled under her blankets and an enormous tarpaulin.
Yet, I often passed that big boulevard busy with traffic, passers-by, workmen, tourists…but I was never struck by the lady’s presence, only visible from the waist up, wearing a windbreaker.
All those blankets and numerous bags obscured a beautiful Spanish lady with blue eyes, her face marked by years of life on the street, damaged hands, fingers covered with rings.
Before meeting her, workers at Street Nurses had told me about her.
They said that Mrs. D recently discovered the pleasures of showering, taking care of her body; she had even had her hair cut. Quite a change for someone who had such trouble looking after herself.
Here I am, sitting in front of this lady together with a Street Nurses colleague. We ask how she is, listen to her story and suggest coming with us for a shower.
She declines, but says: “I’d rather go tomorrow, today is no good. Tomorrow suits me better and I’ll need it then.” From her words I conclude that she finds it important to look after herself.
We see that her hands are dirty, and her nails long; we suggest doing something about it. Mrs. D then cleans her hands with a tissue and she accepts that I cut her nails, which I proceed to do. She also wants me to remove the dirt from under her nails.
I did enjoy taking care of her in this way and sharing her smile
Once her nails are trimmed and her hands cleaned, she keeps looking at her ring-embellished fingers and says: “that’s better, much better”.
From thereon there is no stopping her hygienic requests: she needs a new toothbrush, a comb, tissues, a razor – and the list goes on! I keep the best for the end: “Would you also have a small mirror?” Mrs. D needed a mirror: was she perhaps beginning to reconcile with her looks?
- Agathe, professional nurse, accompanying Street Nurses as a volunteer.