I am a nurse. A bloody good one. I have been one for almost ten years now and I am certain it is my calling and my vocation in life.
However, I can not say that I have always felt this way. When I started reading for a BSc in nursing at university at the tender age of 18, I was somewhat detached and a little insensitive. I would rather be out partying than reporting for duty at 6.45am at hospital for clinical practice.
A typical morning of clinical practice involves listening to the nurses' handover, then you are allocated some patients (usually four) and you have to take care of them under supervision. How much supervision wholly depends on how far along in your nursing studies you are. If you are in first year, they watch you like a hawk. In second year, they loosen the reins just a little.
Well, I was in second year and I was left alone to bathe and dress a sweet little old lady who I had only met an hour ago. I was late, so I missed handover, but bathing and dressing an octogenarian is not brain surgery so I figured 'what the hey!' and jumped to it. She was cute, tiny, well mannered and did not require a nappy, all pluses in my book. The elderly I'm paired up with were usually twice my size, incontinent and surly. So this made a nice change.
We were doing a credit at that moment during lecture time on holistic care, seeing the patient has a whole- a physical-psycho-social being rather than just another ill person and I was making it my mission as a nurse to be the embodiment of holistic care.
So I bathed my elderly person with care. I brushed her hair and applied light make-up. I found a pretty, floral dress for her to wear. I found a lovely little yellow cardigan to put on her and then I put on one velveteen slipper and proceeded to look around the room for the other one.
Old lady: what are you looking for? Me: your other shoe... Old lady: I don't have another shoe... Me: oh, did you misplace it? Old lady: no...I only have one foot!
And then she started to cry.
Because in all my holistic care palaver I failed to notice that my patient was an amputee and a rather fresh one at that.
I tried to explain that I did not notice because I saw her as more than a person with an affliction, I saw her as a WHOLE person.
Then she cried harder because she thought I was making fun of her.
So I did the noble thing and kind of just scrammed out of there and fobbed off the sobbing granny on someone else.
Thank God I have learned a great deal from that time until now. However whenever I examine a patient to this very day, I always make sure he or she has four limbs.
You can't take anything for granted, you see.
Curly versus straight
As a person I am very fond of the straight and narrow track. I enjoy following rules and staying out of trouble. The less I have to worry about anything the better, which is why I often find following the rules a good thing. They are there for a reason after all. However, contrary to my preference, there are certain aspects of myself that simply do not follow the rules. The one aspect that really gets my dander up would have to be my hair. I remember lining up at school for assembly behind some straight and flaxen haired girl, who would be tying it up quickly off her nape to prevent the headmistress from seeing her flaunt her luscious locks. I never had this problem. My hair was almost always in a bun. I would follow the rules. But then again, I never had flaxen hair to flaunt. My hair is dark brown and very curly. And I don’t mean curly like the endearing girls of Anne of Green Gables, or Kate Winslet in Titanic. I was a bloody brillo pad, you know, those curly messes of steel wool used to scour pots. I was a flat-chested 12-year-old with acne, two things I could not keep a secret- after all, it was against the rules to come to school with make-up...or a paper bag over one’s head, which both seemed like reasonable solutions at the time. But I was allowed to scrape my hair up into a severe bun, and that way nobody could possibly figure out that I could use my head as an industrial cleaning aide. I come from a family where curly hair is not a sign of beauty. My mum has dry and tightly curly red hair and for as long as I remember, every week she would whisk herself off to the hairdresser and appear an hour later with lovely silky straight hair. And my dad would say something like ‘Looking good, sexy!’ Therefore, in my head, straight hair is sexy. My younger sister was born with naturally straight and beautiful hair. When my brother was born, he was jaundiced and sickly so my mother prayed that her second child would be wonderfully healthy, which thankfully I am. However, recently she admitted that while pregnant with the little one, she prayed she would have good hair. What can I say, God listened. People would constantly compare us, as most stupid people do when they compare children, and say ‘Wow, your little is so beautiful! And the older one...has such a sense of humour.’ Gee, thanks. When I was thirteen, I got my hair blow-dried for the first time. After about 30 minutes of continuous pulling and a burnt scalp later, I looked in the mirror and lo and behold, I was the girl with the shiny, silky hair. I could not believe it. I was shocked. The next day I went to school and suddenly I was the one doing the flaunting. Girls were petting my hair and saying it was gorgeous, and how much did it cost? Did it take long? Did it hurt? Was your mum ok with it? And for the first time ever, I broke the rules. When the headmistress came around and saw my hair, she was about to say something, but then bit her tongue and backed down. After all, it was a first time offence. The sun shone brighter that day, yes indeed. So you can just imagine the disappointment when I washed my hair and it went back to normal. I guess I expected it to stay that way forever, but it was not to be. I was gutted. I brought out my scrunchy(after all, it was the 90s) and the bun was back. A blow dry was the ultimate treat. And then, in 1999, a new invention was popular all over school- a metallic plated hair straightener. Everyone who made up part of the steel wool society tried to get their hands on one. We borrowed them from each other, begged our parents and saved every penny we could to have one. The way I obtained mine involved an amount of trickery. I could not afford one, but every Christmas my grandfather would give all us grandchildren a decent sum of money. I remember cajoling my sister to pool in to get one of these things, although well aware that she did not need it. She gave in and I finally had one. It worked a charm! I straightened morning, afternoon and night, I had the most horrific split-ends and probably the flattest hair on the island, but I did not care. I finally had what I had been longing for. And I was happy. Now at the age of twenty-eight, when I remember my hair drama, I cringe. I cannot believe all the aggro over the strands of protein that come out of my head. That being said, I still have a complex over my curly hair and I still wear it straight most of the time. However nowadays I have a more mature view of life- at the end of the day, curly or straight does not really matter. It is not about the hair, but the head that resides underneath it. As I have outlined in this piece, hair can easily be changed to suit one’s mood. However, if we were to change our minds as often, all havoc would break loose. There is nothing wrong with self-improvement, however when one goes to great lengths (pun intended) to change what they look like, one cannot help but wonder what kind of person are they really on the inside? It can start with hair, then a nose job, then a boob job, liposuction, gluteus restructuring (or a butt lift) and where is the limit? Really and truly, there is nothing wrong with any of these things, and if they will sincerely make you happy, go for it. However, I believe that when someone is really unhappy about a trivial physical trait (and note I say trivial, not serious like cleft palate or accident/burn victims) one needs to look at what is inside one’s head, rather than what is on it. In the adult world, I am now a nurse, and once again, I find old rules following me, that hair needs to be neatly off the collar. Once again, the bun comes out. But this time, curly or straight has nothing to do with it. It is a mature choice to follow the rules, doing something that requires my heart and my head, and ultimately to form a path, if not a straight and narrow one, at least a happy one through my life.
Bio: Marie-Claire Pellegrini is a 32 year-old nurse and small-time stand-up comedienne, living in Malta, Europe born way up north in snowy Canada. Marie lives with my husband and cat. If her house burnt down, Marie is not sure who she would save. Marie finds time to write when her hands aren't soiled with somebody else's bodily fluids. You can reach Marie at www.mariecp.wordpress.com