Recently, I received a certificate of achievement. It recognized my 40 years in the profession of nursing. Aside from making me face my true age, it inspired me to reflect on the past, and how life has changed over those years. In those long-ago days, girls had fewer career options: teacher, nurse, or secretary. I toyed with being a nun, but not being Catholic eliminated that option. Hermit was not a career, so I opted for a career as a nurse.
It seemed a natural choice. As a child, when the kids on the block were playing cops-and-robbers, or the more politically incorrect cowboys-and-Indians, I played the nurse who patched up all the casualties. Didn’t matter which side the wounded were on, I tended them all. After I read the biography of Florence Nightingale, I would imagine myself on a battlefield, carrying a lamp, walking amongst the rows of bloodied and beaten soldiers. Having no medical knowledge, my imagination stumbled at that juncture. All I could do was offer a word of comfort, a cool hand on a fevered brow, or a clean bandage around a wounded limb. (Band-aid on a cut.) I had no idea how I’d get from A to Z, but I expected I would. So, I studied and apprenticed, and after three grueling years of hospital training, I received a school pin, a cap, and a diploma. Forty years ago.
Things were different back then. Way different.
At the beginning of my nursing career, Viet Nam was the war du jour and a thorny issue; Canada was filling up with American draft dodgers. Pierre Elliot Trudeau was at the height of his popularity; a friend of mine wrote a satirical song about him, recorded it and signed a copy for me. It should have been a big hit, but, sadly, was not. I’m thinking it might be now, in retrospect of Trudeau’s effect on Canada. In Quebec, when I started working as a nurse, it was okay to speak English; the measure of a man was in inches, not centimetres, and bakers used cups, ounces and pounds, not mms, and ccs and gms. Only medical people, scientists, and Europeans knew the metric system.
In the US, Kennedy’s assassination was still being hotly debated; was it a conspiracy, or a lone gunman? And now, the second Kennedy brother had been shot down. Would a third risk his neck to run for president? Not likely. And he didn’t, did he?
Civil rights had become the latest social wrong that needed to be addressed. Hippies, the drug culture, free love were the horrors of the day. Some things change, some things stay the same. Gay marriage wasn’t even a blip on the horizon yet. In fact, the word, gay still meant happy. There was no connotation to it whatsoever. Imagine that!
Handheld computers that spoke to you (think, iphones) were the stuff of science fiction; Star Trek, to be exact, the original series. Back then, computers were huge machines that filled an entire room, used only by huge corporations or the military. Blinking lights, whirring sounds, and assorted bleeps and whistles sounded off before the machine spit out a single sheet of information. I know, incredible. TVs were analog; bulky, and round. VCRS and DVDS hadn’t been thought of forty years ago, let alone invented. If we missed a show, we missed it. No second chances back then. Yes, I lived through those hard times.
As for medicine, like any other field, it has evolved by leaps and bounds. We’ve made huge strides away from the early days of my training and archaic medical practice. At times, though, much like fashions, medical trends have come and gone, only to end up back at the starting gate. But that’s life. We start off young and eager. We end up……wait, no, that can’t be right…
Hmmm, I think I’ll start over and be a writer this time, how’s that?