The Patriarch

Before I even knew what the word feminist was, I was pretty sure I met all the criteria.  I grew up in a patriarchal house, that was immersed in testosterone, having five brothers.  I watched my mom do everything for my dad, and somewhere along the way I found that role uncomfortable.  My mom would never consider doing anything without my dad, and I felt women should be way more independent.  So you can imagine my shock when the one piece of advice I clearly remember getting from my dad was ‘to make sure I went to school and got a career before I got married.’

So what career choice do I go and make with his savvy piece of advice?  Nursing!  A seemingly subservient profession.  I substituted one patriarchal life for another.

This was so apparent to me when I was in nurses training for my L.P.N.  I had two old school nurse instructors who were strict and smart, supportive and tough.  The first time they took us to the hospital for our clinical rotation, I remember the gentler of the two teachers looking panic-stricken in my direction, as she charged towards me, shoved me out of the chair I was sitting in, ripped the chart out of my hand that I was perusing, and practically curtsied to the doctor who was looking for it while offering him my chair!!

Why was it more important for him to have that chair than me?  Whatever happened to ladies first?  I made a mental promise to myself that would be the last chair I would ever give up (as long as my teachers weren’t looking.)

Over the past twenty-three years I’ve managed to keep that promise for the most part.  I have met some amazing doctors over the years (mostly young) who don’t expect me to get up, but there are still those old dinosaurs who walk into the nurses station, give that authoritative look, and expect us all to jump up and say, “Yes doctor, what do you need doctor, can I suck your dick doctor?”  When they realize none of the above are ever going to happen, a dark shadow passes over their face as they long for the days gone by.

As a nurse I’ve come to a place where I’m comfortable in my own skin, never afraid to speak my mind and still never willing to give up my chair, but as a married woman with three children I find my mothers reflection hauntingly looking back at me in the mirror.  My list of domestic chores is enough to give my inner Gloria Steinem a twitch.

I continue to have my estrogen to testosterone ratio outnumbered in my current family, but unlike my mom I do get out without my husband once in a while.  I often think of the advice my dad gave me so long ago, and appreciate the career choice I made because it’s given me the flexibility to be with my children and be in the workplace at the same time.  I plan on passing this advice to my one and only daughter and hope her future battles with testosterone are played out on a more even playing field than mine were.

Uniforms

Vintage Nurse Uniform

By the time my parents could afford to send me to private school, I was entering high school.  I had no understanding of the benefits a private school had to offer, nor did I care.  I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about switching schools, and not being with my friends.  My one greatest concern with enrollment into a Catholic high school was the mandatory plaid skirt, white shirt, and black shoes, otherwise known as a uniform.

I balked at my parents, “There is no way I’m going to any school where I have to wear a uniform!”  Oddly enough, both my parents who were Catholic schooled from K-12, didn’t put up much of a fight, and I continued on my way to public high school (worrying everyday, of course, about what I was going to wear).

After school I worked my first job at McDonald’s and was forced to wear their uniform; a melanic mix of polyester, unflattering to the best of figures, and as breathable as a world trade center dust cloud.

By day I wore my school nursing uniform: a blue stripped dress, white tights and white old lady shoes.  Its crowning feature was the starched white nurse’s cap.  I looked and felt ridiculous.  That cap was a scalp hazard. If I dropped something on the floor, inevitably I would slam my head into the over bed table on the way up.  I was starting to develop nurse pattern baldness.

Over the years my nursing uniform has evolved for the better, and now I wear comfortable scrubs, black clogs, and thank God, no cap.  But as my nursing uniform has improved over time, my personal style has digressed.  Not quite twenty something anymore, yet still too young for support hose I have donned what some call the mommy uniform, others call it the over forty fatigues; I call it my transition wear: conservative, heelless, loose around the jiggly parts, and child resistant.  It camouflages everything from back fat to sticky little finger stains.

For a girl who didn’t want anything to do with a uniform all those years ago, ironically, I have spent the last twenty years of my life wearing one.

Guidance Counselors

Florence Nightingale courtesy of Asli Kutluay at aslikutluay.com

What’s up with high school guidance counselors?  Is there anyone out there in the world that has actually benefited from one?   Well, if you have, please feel free to share your good fortune.  I, on the other hand, have nothing but uncomfortable memories of my guidance counselor at a time when I really needed some sound advice.

When I was a sophomore, I thought about applying to the licensed practical nurse (L.P.N.) program at our local Boards of Cooperative Education Services (B.O.C.E.S), a vocational school open to both high school kids and adults seeking a higher level of education in the form of a trade.  Nobody, however, looked at B.O.C.E.S. as anything resembling higher education.  Quite the opposite, B.O.C.E.S. was considered a place where all the burnouts went for auto shop, or the girls with low I.Q.’s and high hair went for cosmetology.  I’m not sure what kind of losers the nursing students were, but let me tell you, if you were on that bus heading to B.O.C.E.S., people pitied you.

So making this kind of decision was tough.  My parents really didn’t know what to say, my friends thought I was crazy, my boyfriend’s mom, who was a nurse, pooh-poohed the idea.  This left me with only one other choice…my guidance counselor.

You have to understand this truly was my last resort!

If you’ve been fortunate enough in life to have read the Frog and Toad children’s stories, you’ll be able to relate to what my guidance counselor looked like.  If not, stop here, Google Frog and Toad and then come back…

His name was Mr. S.  He sat at his desk in the guidance office smoking cigarettes all day.  He was stout with a round belly that stood perched atop his upper thighs.  His voice was gravely, kind of like Wolf Man Jack’s.  I don’t remember being afraid of him by any means, but I also don’t remember looking forward to meeting with him.

But in I went, and down I sat as a smoke ring circled my head.  It didn’t bother me that he smoked; everybody smoked back then.  He asked me why I was there and I plead my case.  He listened politely, rummaging through my records, and to my surprise he too did not think B.O.C.E.S. was in my best interest.  I could tell he didn’t want to see me get on that bus.

Was that a look of pity that crossed his face?

I’m a pretty stubborn person.  I always have been.  It was at that moment I knew I was going to do the absolute opposite of what this gravely, smoking, toad like person, trapped in a windowless world wanted me to do.

What choice did I have?

So I filled out the application, sat for the entrance exam (something not required for auto shop admission I’m sure), and was accepted into the program.

That following September, with my head held high, I climbed the three short steps onto that B.O.C.E.S. bound bus and never looked back.

Oh yeah, and the guy from auto shop, well he’s living it up, charging a small fortune to fix those sporty European cars, and Cosmo girl, she owns a very swanky salon, a beautiful house, and still looks fabulous.  As for me, well I’ve had a successful career, live in a nice home with my husband and three kids, and am happy to have always forged my own path.

I’m not quite sure whatever happened to that guidance counselor though.  For all I know he’s still in that windowless room, giving out bad advice, with a nicotine patch stuck somewhere over his amphibious body.

My First Hospital Visit

Courtesy of Asli Kutluay

Florence Nightingale. Courtesy of Asli Kutluay at aslikutluay.com

I was seven years old when I entered a hospital for the first time.  Not as a patient, but as a visitor.  My older brother had been newly diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes (insulin dependent diabetes mellitus), and I begged my mother to bring me to visit him.  My brother and I were pretty close and only two years apart.  I remember walking through the large, automatic, sliding glass doors into the lobby.  I ran to push the button for the elevator, and during that short wait I was struck by two things: hospital smell and medical personnel.  Unless you’re olfactory challenged, the smell of a hospital is an unforgettable experience for all those who cross that threshold.  But more importantly, it was the people I noticed who were about to change the course of my life.  Everybody was moving so fast: the nurses, the doctors, people wearing I.D. badges.  I was fascinated.  I knew at that very moment I wanted to be a part of that world.  I wanted to know what was going on behind those closed doors, and inside the minds of the people who chose to work there.

This was such a strong pull for me as a child that I went around telling anyone who would listen that I was going to become a doctor, a neurosurgeon to be exact.  I promised my beloved Aunt that I would buy her a mansion right next to mine.  I even went so far as to study the brain using our encyclopedia, as these were the pre-internet years.

Unfortunately, in high school, my S.A.T. scores weren’t up to par for medical school.  Despite some dissuasion from my guidance counselor, I decided to enter the field of nursing.  I began taking nursing courses along with my required high school classes.  After graduation,  went on to obtain my Registered Nurse license and start my nursing career.

It’s funny how life takes you in certain directions.  Had my brother never gotten ill, I’m not sure I would have ever had another reason to enter a hospital at that time, and I may have spent the last twenty years in a career that would have actually paid me enough money to buy those mansions.

No amount of money, though, could have saved my Aunt; while I was attending nursing school, she was diagnosed with Lymphoma.  I remember visiting her in one of the big city hospitals I eventually came to work in.  I was still naive, and so unprepared for the devastating effects of cancer.

But it was then that I understood how my presence at the bedside could be comforting to someone in their last days.  There was going to be no glory, no fancy title, and little compensation compared to the job at hand.  What I was going to lack in fame and fortune, I was about to make up in a lifetime of experiences: good and bad, happy and sad, fun and frustrating and every other emotion you can possibly think of.  I was also about to meet some of the best people I know along the way.

In a place that can seem so dark to so many, I am constantly enlightened and inspired by what I see and do in the hospital.  I hope to share these experiences throughout this blog that will make you laugh, cry and understand a litter better not only the life of this one nurse, but also how these nursing stories reveal how we all connect to one another.