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“I’d love a cup of tea.”

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A memory of helping a patient with dementia whilst volunteering in my local hospital as a prospective medical student – patient details have been changed to preserve confidentiality.

Outside, it’s a warm peachy Thursday evening. Inside the bright incongruent hospital, it is the start of my two hour volunteering shift. I am making my way round the patients and their entourages of drips and catheter bags, trying to make them feel welcome and at home in this alien environment.

Bay three, bed four is where Betty lays. She is a new patient to the ward; I only know her name because it is on the whiteboard above her bed. I smile at her and introduce myself, asking how she is. She tells me she is doing “just fine”. A funny phrase for someone in hospital.

Betty looks at me with twinkly vacant eyes and a bemused crinkly smile and I feel a huge sense of compassion towards this lady, who despite things is so optimistic and happy. I ask if there is anything, I can get her – a sandwich, a drink?

“I’d love a cup of tea.”

I tell Betty I’ll be back in a second with a mug of tea (we can pretend it’s a tea cup) that she takes strong, milk and no sugar. Just how I like mine too. I try my best to make mug of tea that is up to Betty’s standards with the hospital tea bags and bring it back to her like a proud child. A nurse is helping to sit her up, so I leave it on her table and get a smile from Betty in return as I quietly slip away.

Having spoken to all of the patients who wanted to talk and gotten several sandwiches and mugs of tea for them I decide to return to Betty. I want to see how my tea went down. As I near her bed I get another vacant smile and my heart sinks a little as I see a cold mug of tea on her table. I ask her if she’d like me to make her another. Perhaps the nurses took a while, or the doctor came to see her.

“I’d love a cup of tea.”

I nod and head off to make another. I’ve worked out how to make the tea a decent strength, the trick is squeezing the tea bag. Pleased with my work I return to Betty and place the mug of tea in her soft wrinkled hands. She takes a tentative sip and smiles at me. Happy that she is happy I leave to help the health care assistant make some of the now empty beds up as some patients head home.

I made Betty five mugs of tea on that shift. She never drank any of them. Betty has dementia the ward sister tells me; you don’t need to make her any more tea. She frowns ruefully at the cold mugs of tea I hold helplessly in my hands.

But as the last five minutes of my shift approaches, I go to the tea cart and I make a strong mug of tea, milk, no sugar and I take it over to bay three, bed four and I hand it to Betty. Because seeing her vacant eyes twinkle and her crinkly mouth smile was worth a thousand mugs of tea.






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