After 16 months of being a nurse aide, I was beyond any self-consciousness, doubts, or hesitations about doing “women’s work.” I had lifted and transferred enough dead-weight men and women, rolled with enough verbal insults of demented patients, dodged enough projectile vomiting, emptied enough bedpans, and witnessed enough death and dying to arrive at that comfortable place. For a quarter-century I had been doing hatha yoga regularly for strength, flexibility, and balance, and this had served me well on my job.
Still, I wondered how much longer I could jockey patients and twist and turn in shower stalls without risking permanent injury. Meanwhile, I wanted greater responsibility in delivering healthcare and felt, despite never being much interested in the biological sciences, I had the intelligence to handle such a challenge. And I’d always admired the Civil War nursing of Walt Whitman.
So, once again with my wife’s blessing, I quit my jobs at the hospital and the Council and began studying for a license in practical nursing, which was offered by the same junior college that trained me in nurse aiding.
Before entering the formal nursing program, I had to take foundational courses―human development, microbiology, and anatomy and physiology―at the junior college and Adams State.
Somewhat to my surprise, formal instruction in nursing began with my old friends, such things as taking vital signs, body mechanics, proper handwashing, bed baths, utilizing bedpans, and proper bedmaking. How cocky I felt, having done this now for nearly two years! But my cockiness was short-lived as we were plunged into the far more challenging fundamentals of nursing, such things as “anions,” “acidosis,” “alkalosis,” “osmolality,” “osmolarity,” “angiotensin,” and IV infusion.
One day I was pleasantly surprised, moved even, when the junior college presented me with a new Littmann stethoscope―a specialized cardiology scope, no less―merely for being a “non-traditional”―i.e., male―nursing student. One other classmate, a little younger than myself, was similarly presented. He was a smart, likable Del Norte ski patrolman and bicycle-frame designer. A Latino from northern Colorado, he told me he was advised by his parents to downplay his Latin heritage if he wanted to advance in life. He had succeeded at this, in my opinion, although perhaps with the help of genetics. Like Chris, he, too, could have passed for Irish.
Further into my education, I was blindsided when I discovered that nearly an entire semester was to be devoted to the study of pediatric nursing, which included a separate textbook, thick as a loaded diaper, on the subject. Children flatly did not interest me, nor did they particularly interest my wife. Two years into our marriage, we agreed we never wanted to have children, desired instead to be, in the positive, empowering parlance, “child-free”; thus, I underwent a vasectomy. My goal as a nurse was to care for adults in a long-term-care facility or work in a clinic for a physician who, like my wife, specialized in internal medicine, medical care for adults. So, as a nursing student, I trudged through the readings and lectures about such things as gestation and birthing processes, neonatal care, vaccinations, and breastfeeding.
Our nursing class trained―once again in mandatory blinding-white scrubs, socks, and shoes―at the Valley’s various hospitals and long-term-care units. At the Alamosa hospital, I witnessed a caesarean section, which I found fascinating, although purely as a surgical procedure, not as a “joyous,” “miraculous” debut of another hungry mouth on the planet. I watched in fascination the arthroscopic repair of a torn rotator cuff, the area around the compromised cuff inflated to a freakish, Popeye-the-Sailor proportion with a fluid necessary to properly perform the procedure. After observing these procedures, I had my usual ridiculous fantasies―in these cases, not about being a surgeon, but rather about being an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist. I love the way these latter two, always quietly and competently in the background, deliver one to La-La Land just before the knives are drawn.
For the next year-and-a-half, although I was licensed as a practical nurse, I effectively worked as a “medical assistant” in various clinics in the Valley’s regional medical center, located in Alamosa. Linda was now employed by the medical center as well. I “floated” frequently, working for internists, physicians’ assistants, and nurse practitioners. I worked for an ear, nose, and throat specialist; an OBGYN; and a general surgeon. I worked for an internist who specialized as well in cosmetic dermatology, assisting her when she injected patients with Botox to reduce facial wrinkles (although the quest for beauty and eternal youthfulness struck me as more of a big-city obsession, somehow incongruous with life in our rugged, remote, sparsely-populated, and dirty-fingernailed Valley where, it seemed to me, deeds and grit were more determinate than looks).
I loved and was proud of working as a medical assistant: readying patient medical charts for the day’s schedule (this being before electronic records); measuring heights and weights and taking vital signs; hustling back and forth to the medical records department for as-needed charts throughout the day; giving injections; performing EKGs; stocking exam rooms; digging for lab results; flipping multi-colored plastic cueing flags beside exam room doors. The specialization and selectness of delivering healthcare recalled that of electronically processing data.
I liked most of my patients, the bulk of them 40 and older. In our sparsely-populated Valley, I regarded them as my neighbors.
I now planned to earn a living as a medical assistant until I retired. At times I wished I’d studied 15 years earlier to become a registered nurse rather than a college instructor, office administrator, and occasional writer. But, back then, I was hung up on “women’s work.”