Bobby was old. At least, that was how she seemed to me when I first met her. Nevertheless, she was sprightly and quick, with a gleam in her eye that I noticed only on longer acquaintance. She was also a great talker. In other words, we chatted a lot when time would allow. It was entertaining and never a chore.
Bobby had a daughter, Celia, who proved to be as entertaining as her mother. We at once found more common ground; she was a teacher coping with the introduction of SATs, and my wife was lecturing to Staffordshire teachers on that very subject. She thanked me for “helping” her mother and I saw her quite often after that.
It was soon after I had called at Bobby’s house that she showed me the photograph. I should emphasise that it was most unusual then to make deliveries; it was a favour to a customer who I now regarded as rather special. She made me very welcome and I stayed longer than intended. When she next came into the pharmacy, she asked to speak to me and handed me an old, but surprisingly crisp, photograph. It was a picture of a young lady in dancing costume, almost a ballet skirt, posing as in a pirouette, and smiling happily at the camera.
“Wow! Is that you?”
She looked very pleased at my response, and said: “Yes, I used to be on the stage you know.” Of course, I had not known but looking at her then I could see a different Bobby, one who was five feet of cheeky vivacity, demanding attention from an enchanted audience.
Soon after this, Celia told me that Bobby was in hospital. On the spur of the moment, I visited her there on my half day. Her delight at seeing me was almost overwhelming and we had a very long chat. Eventually I had to go, in spite of her begging me to stay longer, and I still remember feeling guilty for leaving her.
Celia called in to thank me for that visit, but it had been a pleasure and thanks were not necessary.
I was soon moved to another branch, and I did not see either of them again, but I did not forget them.
Seeing that picture of the young dancer altered my attitude towards my older customers. I tried to look beneath the mask of age to imagine who they had once been and become more accepting of their present limitations.
I hope this benefited patients as much as it rewarded me.
John Wood, retired pharmacist, Birmingham
John’s piece received a special mention in our 2019 writing competition ‘The Patient Who Changed My Practice’. Read more entries here.