I am not a nurse. My father thought I should be. He saw my gentle ways and compassionate heart and declared me nurse material, but he was dead wrong.
Before that, he thought I should be an airline stewardess. In 1955 airline travel was all the rage. He was a world class flight instructor and had visions of me dressed in high heeled shoes, white gloves and a smart little tailored uniform serving gourmet meals to the elite few who could afford to fly. I tried to comply, but each time we became airborne, I turned white and threw up all over his career plans. We tried this repeatedly, thinking perhaps my queasy stomach and loss of breakfast was a fluke, but nope: airplane up, vomit, airplane down. I was predictable. No waitress in the sky job for me.
I flew back and forth to a Vermont boarding school on holidays. I climbed the steep steps of a puddle jumper, the name given to a small plane with such a short distance to travel, (500 miles) that it didn’t bother with altitude. These flights were filled with business men in dark suits and polished shoes. They moved their fine leather brief cases out of range as I filled one barf bag after the next. When I finally stepped from the plane I was ill, weak and embarrassed.
These planes still exist, if you are ever in the mood to torture yourself. Anyone going into the Elmira airport can find themselves on a plane so small that there are no overhead compartments, one seat on each side of the aisle, and a flight crew that graduated at the bottom of their class. No matter what seat you were assigned, you’ll be asked to move to the rear, so the plane will have enough weight for take off.
The stewardesses and pilots assigned to Elmira flights are a different breed and take some getting used to, lest you think you are standing in front of a renegade nun brandishing a ruler that looks like a microphone.
On my last flight from Philadelphia the stewardess made the following announcements:
“If you have to go to the bathroom, I want you to hold it. If you get up and head to the toilet while we are in line for take off, the pilot is required to go to the back of the line. That would be bad for everyone involved. You don’t want to be responsible for that happening, so hold it.
Check for personal belongings before you get off the plane. On the last flight a man named Tom Harris forgot his divorce papers, left them right there in the second row seat. Don’t tell me he’s not going to miss those!
You’ll be happy to know the pilot did a real good job on take off last time and brought it down just fine too. He’s doing real well today, so don’t worry about a thing.
Soft drinks will be served after we reach maximum altitude, if you have exact change. Don’t ask before I offer. Also, hang on to them during turbulence, because the liquid jumps right out of the cup. Stay in your seats and you’ll have a nice flight.”
I am tending my friend Susan today, who has been my non-biological sister and closest, dearest ally for 35 years. She just had a hip replacement and needs a live-in friend. Her attitude is always top-notch, even in recovery. She is a big Swedish optimist, whose laughter fills the house and whose love for me has never faltered.
I, on the other hand, am anxious and grumpy. I am a poor queasy excuse for a nurse, being traumatized by the sight of anything medical. The pill bottles, hospital bed in the living room and changing of bandages leave me nauseated.
This morning I took her chamber pot from her bedside (totally gross) and spilled half of it on my feet as I poured it in the upstairs toilet. That was lovely, both the moment and the cleaning up after.
A nurse will visit to draw blood this afternoon, take her temperature, blood pressure and peer into her raw incision. I’ll take a long walk around the block, breathe some fresh air and think that maybe being an airline stewardess on an Elmira flight might not be so bad after all.