After reading about Bernie, the hairdresser (in T.D Fuego’s article in the columns of this paper on 20 Sept 2013), I feel I must share with you about time spent with my Jewish patients. Before I went to the UK, the only Jew I heard about was in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ by Shakespeare, but what follows is about real people.
In 1971, I was working in a hospital in London’s East End and one day, while chatting with an elderly patient, as is my wont, he said: ‘Let me tell you something, nurse. When a young Jew starts to work as clerk in a bank, he always leaves it as either Manager or Director, never as clerk.’ That’s certainly food for thought but from my thinking and experience, he would most likely have ended as ‘Pdg’, never mind anything else. I haven’t forgotten his words which have stuck like glue, nor his semitic features or his special kosher meals. I can still see him sitting in his bed, talking to me.
In another London hospital I came across a Jewess. She was in her sixties, came in with a broken arm and other injuries after a car accident. She was quite beautiful with her long painted pink fingernails. She stayed a fortnight and when she left, I think she gave us all a present. I got a lovely gold coloured purse which I kept for nearly 40 years.
A few years back my mum was on about my wardrobe being jampacked and to get rid of some stuff. Do as you wish, I said, but leave this purse alone for I told you it was a present from a patient. But last December while spring-cleaning or rather summer cleaning, I had to dispose of it as it was on its last leg. I have looked after other Jewish patients but these two remain fresh in my memory, as if it was yesterday.
The Jewish community has worked very hard in London in the 50s and 60s and still does. It is only in 1976, when I read the biography of the late Mrs Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, that I really came to understand their history.
Mona R. Babajee
P.S. I will always be grateful to the British government for having given me and others the opportunity to train there as nurses. With a British nursing qualification, the world became our oyster, the sky was the limit and we could reach for the stars. Just in passing, these few words below have nothing to do with nursing but please allow me to share them: ‘Those who build banana republics usually skid on plantain skins.’
* Published in print edition on 11 October 2013