Nursing seems to be one of the strongest threads of my life. As a child growing up in the 1960's, I can't recall a time when I didn't tell people, "I'm going to be a nurse when I grow up."
I had a great curiosity about all animals and medicine. The library held a fascinating training manual for Practical Nurses with graphic pictures of equipment and describing the proper procedure for such things as the Harris Flush, which I tried on my dolls. My favorite reading at the time involved stories of children with cerebral palsy and leukemia (Mine for Keeps, Karen, The Blood of the Lamb) It never occurred to me, as it did to my squeamish friend Liz, that I might one day be afflicted so I kept on reading.
I found that adults were a good source of ersatz medical equipment, but a poor source of information on things medical. Mother counted among the ultra-squeamish and except for the Family Home Medical Adviser she kept, which had beautiful color plates of internal organs, she was not helpful. I once asked my grandmother, as she explained that the neighbor had died by heart attack, "What happens when you have a heart attack?" "You clutch your chest and fall down," she answered. I put the question in another way; no luck. In other words, I thought, you don't know what happens inside the body when a person has a heart attack. I thought this a great loss of what promised to be some thrilling information.
Like most children, I bandaged the dog and had a doll hospital. I read every student nurse book series available; Sue Barton was my favorite. One solitary afternoon I occupied myself by fashioning a pair of leg braces and crutches for my doll, Mary Van Heusen. My fascination spread to the other neighborhood girls, who joined me in reading the PN manual and setting up an isolation room for another of my hapless dolls. For a time I thought we would all go to nursing school but I was the only one who actually did.
I was a dedicated candy striper, a creature rarely seen now, in a large teaching hospital run by Grey Nuns. Wearing a carefully ironed pinafore and blouse and shod in white nurse shoes, I felt ready for anything. I had a history with this hospital, having been born there and back again at age 5 to have my tonsils out. Each unit had its own atmosphere, and some like the Burn Unit and the Newborn Nursery had a distinct smell. I stocked whistle-tip rubber suction catheters for the Burn Unit, made identification cards (the size of old-fashioned charge cards) in Admitting, pushed dozens of wheelchair patients, and sorted computer keypunch cards in the Lab. I explored every bit of the hospital's eight floors, including the tunnel to the nursing school and the chapel. I loved that the sisters created beauty (albeit with religious theme) in every corner of the hospital. Those experiences allowed me to see a wider world, but I also saw how woefully inexperienced and prepared I was--for anything.
Nothing else seemed to hold my interest, or feel like a real career the way nursing did. Still, it was my mother who found a nursing school for me. Ever a "C" student, I assumed that my grades were too poor to get me into the nursing school of my choice. After high school graduation, decades of clerking at the department store yawned before me; I slept late and made no moves. Mother awoke me one morning with the announcement that she'd had a lovely conversation with the dean of nursing at a local community college. You know what it means when your mother says that; the adults are in league against you. Their ADN program was still taking students for its first class starting in the fall, she enthused. At that point I wasn't sure I wanted to go to nursing school; I was scared and lacked confidence. Without so much as a cup of coffee under me, Mother propelled me toward the phone; before I could protest I had an appointment to meet with the dean and take the ACT. After I passed the ACT, there sat a brand-new nurses' cap on the sideboard in the dining room, and it looked like I was going to be joining the ranks of Sue Barton after all.