My Shortest Career
I’ve written before that I thought I could have been be a good doctor – even though my short-lived career in Nursing didn’t exactly go well. (“I Coulda Been Somebody”)
I wrote back then that the hospital work was okay, but that the academic side was drudgery.
That was not exactly true.
I am a great classroom student (when I can stay awake.) In nurses’ training, I excelled in Anatomy and Pharmacology, and most of the other science-related classes where you learn something concrete – something that makes sense.
What I couldn’t connect with was: Sick People.
Not that I don’t have sympathy for people’s suffering. Hospitalization is a very scary thing. I empathize with the seriously ill and with their families. And I even sympathize with folks who feel only temporarily terrible and are bored out of their minds at the same time.
What I couldn’t do was pretend that I could help them in any way.
I’m sure that comes with time. I realize now that just offering someone a glass of water and a pat on the hand at the right moment can make a huge difference. But back then, in my utter self-absorbed immaturity, I had imagined that I would be saving lives, not holding the emesis basin while somebody threw up. I just didn’t know that it was the same thing.
I remember the exact moment when I realized that I wasn’t going to be a nurse.
I was five months into Nurses’ Training. Instead of going into a degree program at a college, I had opted for the nurses’ training program affiliated with a major area hospital. (I’m not sure you can even do that anymore, but back then, it was still quite common for the hospitals to have their own nursing schools, offering diplomas rather than degrees.) I wanted to be like my mother, and that is how my mother got her training. I was also wise enough (amazingly) to want to get right into the hospital and see if I even liked the work, instead of pursuing the academic side that the degree program stressed for the first two years. And while I am proud of that tiny spark of wisdom, I admit that I idiotically couldn’t wait to wear that little hat.
(Here’s a funny little aside. I decided to go into Nursing because I wanted to be like my Mom. But she didn’t encourage it. She honestly didn’t think I would like it. And one of my very best friends in high school wrote in my yearbook, “Ten to one you’ll be some famous celebrity, not a nurse.” I haven’t got the fame yet, but she got the non-nurse part right!)
So anyway, there I was in my little uniform, white stockings, and the adorable cap, trying to be a nurse. It felt like I was trying to be a unicyclist. I had no balance. My best friend in school had just been asked to leave – she had been caught crawling into bed with one of her cutest patients. I was horrified and envious at the same time – my youngest patients hovered around 83.
That particular day, I had walked into the 4-bed room to make up the bed of a recently discharged patient. (Yeah, nurses still did that. Especially student nurses.) The privacy curtain around the opposite bed was completely drawn. And from behind the curtain came a voice – a very authoritarian voice:
“Is that a nurse who just walked in?”
And I froze. I was unable to speak.
“Are you a nurse?” The voice seemed extraordinarily loud for a hospital.
I finally answered:
And there was a bellowing laugh.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I’m a student. First year.”
Again the laugh.
“All I want is your goddamn bandage scissors. They should be nice and sharp, seeing as you’ve never used them.”
So I opened the curtain a crack, and handed the doctor my scissors. My mother bought them for me as a high school graduation gift, and had engraved my name across the blade, just like her nursing shears had her name engraved across the blade.
“Do you want me to help?” I asked, trying to sound like a real nurse.
“Absolutely not,” the doctor answered.
And he clipped the bandage he was changing, and handed me back my scissors.
And I slunk away.
And quit nursing school the following week.
I had wanted to be just like my mother. But that didn’t mean I had to be a nurse.
I could be just like her if I was kind and honest and cheerful.
And I’ve tried to be ever since.
I still have the scissors.