When you are eleven, visibility counts for something. I clearly remember that I was exactly eleven years old, when “Krumme” (a character in a Danish children movie) sang “It is difficult being eleven years old, there is so much adults do not understand.” At the time, I thought this a great wisdom. On the other hand, I also had an inkling that the same was true the other way around. That I did not understand that strange planet inhabited by my parents, so I listened carefully. What was that job thing? What was at stake? My father would tell tales about the intricacies of working life, about customer relations, interesting projects and challenges in the company.
Every afternoon, when he came home from work, he took off his suit and dressed casually. I think it was a ritual. One person at work, another at home. A freedom in dressing as you like, speaking freely. And perhaps also in putting on the suit the following day, going to work signaling professionalism, importance and all the other things such an attire is meant to imply. In the afternoon we sat around the table, my mother made coffee, and my father began to talk.
When it was time for dinner, my mother often took over with stories about her job: Screws, nails and rotating hospital beds. Blood, arteries and severed body parts. Open fractures and broken bones. At the time, my mother’s work seemed a never ending study in bad luck, misfortune and human misery. NEVER ride a motor bike, darling. NEVER put your hand out of the window, when you are in a car. NEVER pour gasoline on the barbecue, darling. By the tone of her voice, I instinctively knew that she had seen the worst possible outcomes of those actions.
She always spoke vividly about work around the dinner table until father and I lost our appetite for meatloaf or chicken wings. But despite all that drama, there really was very little drama of the kind my father talked about, which I also recognize from my own working environment. The kind of drama, which usually does not relate to the work itself, but the circumstances surrounding it, such as mergers, cuts or whatever else occurs to stir up the office. The kind of drama that takes away the focus on the actual work being performed.
When it comes to my mother’s job, however, drama is inseparably linked to the discipline. I guess you could say that drama is a basic condition of nursing. I may only have noticed the blood and the broken bones, but what she really talked about was always the thing itself, the expertise required to perform the discipline. She would explain in detail how they succeeded in straightening a backbone or sowing on a finger. And marvel at the progress she witnessed in the operating theatre today compared to when she started in the profession.
My mother is now 70 years old, and she still works. Up until a year ago, she worked night shifts from 3 p.m. until 8 a.m. She often had “the star”, which sounds alluring, but really means that you are in charge of the shift, and therefore also the last person to go to bed. She is also a part of the “Back-team”, a team of specialized nurses, who assist at very complicated back surgeries. Surgeries of up to 8 hours are not uncommon. She is tough, my mother. And were she physically capable, she would have continued for another ten years, I am sure.
For that same reason, I have always found it paradoxical that you simply have to drag her along to see a doctor. Maybe this also comes with the profession, though. That you have seen worse, so you do not whine. And mother never whines. She walked from the operation ward, where she worked, to the maternity ward, where she gave birth to my sister. And: she insists on ripping of the patch in one – brutal – jerk.
Although I made an effort to understand my parents’ work life as a child, It was not until I finished my education and started working myself, that I understood how unique it is to find your right place in the job market. To be so sure of your profession, to feel called by it, the way my mother is. And the point I’m really trying to make is, that even though my mother left her uniform at work every day, she somehow still wore it. And even though she, before long, will put it away for good, I am convinced that she will still feel called by the profession. One of the tough nurses.