Tish Mathis

Tish is a Level 8 Security Lockdown Ward Psychiatric Nurse who works in the mental health field in Australia


I could not help but be touched by reading the article, “From a Military Doctor” by Captain Stephen R. Ellison, MD. Thank you for sharing it Doctor. I am a nurse, not as qualified as you, but I dislike general nursing, preferring the mental health field.

I am a level 8 Security Lockdown Ward Psychiatric Nurse. Due to the new policies put in place here in Australia, under the mental health umbrella, I found myself working with the criminally insane, dementia and old war veterans whose families wanted them closer to where they lived, so they would not have to travel half away across the country to see them.

Yes they have put them all the same place. Why… because of budgets and politics.

I can tell you one thing, every time we received a new patient that was a war veteran who suffered from dementia and I heard a doctor “sigh” in disappointment, and mumble under his breath, “That’s all we need another one to join the war that never ends in their head.” I wanted to scream and choke the living daylights out of him/her.

It is so easy to just see the disease and forget the sacrifice.

But when you look at it through my eyes, through someone who works with these people 24/7 you see the human being beneath the disease.

You know that it was the sacrifice that caused the disease. And as you form relationships with them (which happens no matter how many walls you put up) you become aware that they are the way they are now because the real Heroes are the ones that didn’t make it back alive; because the demons are still breathing. Their guilt at being alive, being the last one left is what haunts them for the rest of their lives.

So they go back to the battlefield in their mind and they relive it again, and again, and again – to try to save their mate – to try and become a Hero – to return back home under the flag they fought under. The medals, the parades, all the honour means nothing to these tortured souls, because they don’t see themselves as Heroes

But they did fight a good fight, and they fought for us to be free and to give us freedom of speech, thought, and way of life as well as the right for doctors to sigh because they have to spend an hour examining them once a week, while we nurses spend 8 hours a day with them every day. Sometimes, because of staff shortages in my field of nursing, we work 16 hours a day with them.

On a regular shift I walk into and out of their reality at least 100 times, I have been in the trenches with them; I have been pulled to down to the ground with them using their own body as shield to protect me when they heard artillery and I heard thunder. To each and every one of them I was a different person from their past; I wore that personality with pride, and gave them what comfort they needed.

But alas, I did see some new nurses come and go, and hardly any stayed, and all they saw when they looked at one of them was a crazy senile old man. And I am ever so grateful that those fresh young nurses straight out university did leave and run back to General nursing because:

  • They didn’t see the young man full of hopes and dreams
  • They never saw the 15-year-old young larrikin who lied about his age to get into the army and serve with pride.
  • They never saw the diggers playing 2-up in the trenches
  • They never saw the man he was, the father he became and the memories and guilt he carried with him. (The Demons that dreamed with him)
  • They didn’t even see the proud grandfather who carried his grandchild on his shoulders with pride, and had a glistening tear in his eye when his infant grandchild wrapped his tiny little fist around his finger and stared up at him, and the fierce protectiveness he felt towards that child.
  • And they never saw the guilt about the ones that never made it back and would never experience any of what he had, even if he no longer remembered any of it any more, just the war and the guilt of surviving.

They just saw an old man who was nuts; who could not communicate any longer; an old man who wet and soiled his pants that they had to clean, who they had to feed shower and dress; an old man who mistook their actions as attacks and at times fraught them with every ounce of his strength, and got a few good punches in; an old man who didn’t even recognize his own family members anymore.

But they never once stopped to ask themselves why do the family members still come? I will tell you why they still come. Just because he has forgotten who they are, and who he was to them, they never do.

Oh, yes there were many family members who stopped coming – it was too hard for them to watch their loved ones in this state. And that’s when we became their family; that’s when we became their daughters, sisters, grandmothers and wives, whatever other role they created for us, including their buddy who was burrowed down in that bunker with them while enemy fire flew above our heads. We even escaped from the camps together.

It was just a case of stepping into another reality for a few minutes.

Sometimes the reality you stepped into was warm and sweet, other times they would be begging you to resuscitate a pillow that was one of their mates who got hit, and you did it and just hoped you could pull it off, without flipping him out so he kills you.

You stepped into that living hell of a reality and you felt their pain anguish and desperation, with every fibre of your body

And the whole time you are resuscitating the pillow in the back of your mind you know that this old man has been marked down by his own family as NFR (not for resuscitation).

I became what ever they needed me to become and I never left one alone when his time came. I was by his side, I cleansed him, packed him, I tagged and bagged him.

Then I would take 15 minutes off to find a corner to cry for him.

After my shift ended and handover was complete, every one of us nurses on that ward headed down to the pub and celebrated his freedom with a toast to him and rejoiced in knowing he was finally free.

Never did we leave their side and we always left a door and all the windows open before he passed and for 24 hours after that. The windows had bars on them, but they were no longer a barrier for one who had no need for his body anymore.