Everybody needs an auntie like Betty

This blog was originally published on a different site, 2/2/15

When I was finally diagnosed with pneumonia yesterday, I was moved to a ward. My roommate was Betty, 83 years young and who reminded me of my own mum and aunties.

She’d been in since last Wednesday, you see, so she knew the lie of the land.

‘You’ll need another pillow and blanket,’she says. ‘It was cold in here last night.’

The auxiliary nurse came in and Betty ordered my extras for me.

She was barely out the door when Betty said in a stage whisper: ‘She’ll probably forget!’

I knew then I was in for a treat.

‘I’m a bit deaf, Louise, just shout,’ I was told. I was still in quite a bit of pain so I tried to get as comfortable as I could and closed my eyes for a while.

I opened them to find Betty rummaging in her bedside cupboard. She had everything in there! Chocolates, Murray Mints, squash, Lucozade, biscuits, a DVD player.

She insisted I had one of each which she brought over and then fixed my bed for me. I couldn’t have stopped her if I’d tried.

I was suddenly nostalgic for that generation of women, the ones who were in my life mostly gone now. Strong, funny, selfless souls who just got on with it, no matter what life threw at them.

Aunties who would act in loco parentis and take no cheek from you, then spoil you rotten when your parents were around.

You called them auntie. Everybody needs aunties.

And these women didn’t have to be blood relatives. They were your parents’ friends, but it didn’t matter. You called them auntie. Everybody needs aunties.

Betty’s legend status really started to cement overnight, though. Both of us were on IV drips and so we were getting up to the toilet every hour. By 2 am, I’d turned into Tina.

‘You feeling alright, Tina?’

Of course I wasn’t going to correct her.

‘Fine, Betty, just going to the toilet.’

Every time I came back, she’d say: ‘Feel free to turn a light on and read if you want to, Tina, don’t mind me.’

Or, ‘I’d love a cup of tea, would you, Tina?’

‘Oh I wish, Betty,’I’d say, trying not to giggle.

By 4.30 am she’d had enough. ‘I’m just going to get up, Tina, and tidy up, that’s what I’d be doing at home.’

Lights on then.

By 5, she was powdering her face and eating grapes. ‘You want some grapes, Tina?’

I actually fell asleep at this point, then woke at 6 in terrible pain. No one came so it was Betty to the rescue. Off she went to the nurses’ station. ‘Tina in 5a’s no’ well!’

After a wee shot of morphine, (boy, that stuff works fast!), I was floating on a cloud. At 6.30, I glanced over and Betty was asleep again, obviously her mid-morning nap.

I slept but was woken by a really loud familiar theme tune. I looked across at Betty, who was sitting with a massive set of 70s headphones on, watching Still Game on her DVD player. She hadn’t plugged them in, though.

The sound was blaring, reverberating through the rest of the ward and by now I was quietly hysterical, aided no doubt by the Class A drug I’d just been given. She could hear it well, though, obviously, she was just unaware that everyone else could.

It took the duty nurse to finally come in and set her straight, Betty apologising profusely. The tears were streaming down my face at this point and I drifted off to sleep with what will become a golden memory filling my head.

I slept most of the day but woke to have lunch with Betty. ‘I wonder what it’ll be, Tina.’

She was kind enough to share some of her reading material, like Take a Break magazine and the Scottish Sun, neither of which would be my first choice but in no way diminishes my respect and affection for her.

Betty got moved to another ward late this afternoon, one which could specialise in her treatment more, and I was genuinely sad. She made my hospital stay and even though I only knew her for 24 hours, I can genuinely say I’ll never forget her.

Everybody needs aunties like that in their lives.

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