Max was a 27-year-old patient who had a stroke (yep, extremely young). He lost his ability to talk and he lost control of the right side of his body. I met him when I was in my second year as a student nurse, fulfilling my practical hours in a medical ward at a very old, and scarily lacking, government hospital.

Now, although Max was severely affected by this stroke, daily physiotherapy made sure to strengthen his muscles enough so that whenever his restraints came loose on his left hand, he ripped out his drip, ripped off his nappy and tried to rip out his catheter. I actually found it extremely amusing to see a half-paralysed man showing three (big) nurses all at once just who was the real boss of that ward.

You know how you speak to animals and babies? Not because you think they’ll answer you or understand what you’re saying, but just because it’s what you tend to do? I like making conversation, and even more so when I know I won’t get a judgmental reply. I did that with Max. I used to have fat conversations with him (or should I say, myself) while feeding him, bathing him and even more so if there was just no work to do in the ward. I’d just go sit with him to chat about whatever was going on, whatever was annoying me, what was happening with my love life – it was my own personal therapy. That poor, poor man – I never know when to shut up. But Max would sit and watch me when I spoke, with a look of quiet understanding.

One day, I was rubbing his back when he turned to me and very softly whispered, “Thank you but now, where’s my wife? I’d like to see her.” My heart broke. After three months of not speaking, he chose me to be the one to say his ‘first’ words to, and he was missing his wife! I phoned her straight away and she came to see him immediately. I stood by and watched tears of happiness running down their cheeks as they hugged and got to say everything they had wanted to say to each other for months.

I’ll never forget that man. Yep, believe it or not, the cynical nurse can be touched by the simple things.

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