Mom – the Nurse

She accidentally became a nurse. Her life’s ambition and the prophecy from her high school yearbook stated that she would someday become a famous writer, weaving thousands of words into paragraphs and books.

But World War II interrupted everyone’s plans, so she signed up to become an army nurse. The only way she could afford an education was to let Uncle Sam do it for her.

Ancestry.com lists her as Arlene Renken Ediger, a nurse in the Army Cadet Corps from 1942-1948, but since 1950—I have known her only as Mom. Arlene Renken - nurse

The war ended before her nursing class shipped overseas, but she continued to work as a registered nurse, supplementing her husband’s farm income and taking care of her three children. Her 3-11 shift at the hospital worked well for our family while Dad drove us home on the school bus, made supper and helped us figure out our math homework.

Although I remember her white uniform, starched and ironed so that not even a hint of a wrinkle showed, it was her hat that signaled she was ready for work. Neatly bobby-pinned to her hair, she proudly wore her hat and made sure that any stains were successfully bleached out. Even the bobby pins were painted white. She never understood how modern-day nurses sacrificed their hats nor how they substituted those colorful scrubs for the white dress uniform, white support hose and white rubber-soled shoes.

“A nurse has to look the part,” she said. “Professional…always.” Even jewelry was forbidden, so she surreptitiously wore a tiny cross underneath her uniform to remind herself that as she served others, she also served Christ.

Her nurse’s training also bled into our chores at home. When changing the beds, she made perfect hospital corners. She taught us to do the same. Our bed sheets were so tight, quarters bounced off them like hailstones during an Oklahoma storm. I was in my fifties before I dared to leave my bed unmade.

It seems now a cruel twist of fate that Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She can no longer handle a syringe, and she mixes up her own medicines. She forgets to eat and recently, we had to take away car privileges.

The doctor helped us confirm the “no driving” rule. He wrote a prescription that stated, “Arlene can no longer drive.” That finally convinced her. When she reads the script, she obeys because that’s what nurses do. They follow doctors’ orders.

Mom may live with Alzheimer’s for many years. We take it one day at a time, knowing it is a losing battle. She will eventually forget who we are and even her memories of nursing will one day disappear. Over time, she may forget how to speak and how to smile.

But I’ll always remember her in that crisp white uniform, on her way out the door to take care of someone who was sick.

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5 thoughts on “Mom – the Nurse

  1. This entry touched me. My mother’s dearest friend and the friend’s husband both now have Alzheimer’s. It is my mother’s greatest sorrow. Maude lives in FL and we live in PA. Little by little the thrice-daily calls began to trickle down to once every couple months. She forgets who my mother is. My mother is still sharp but we live in the past with stories of her and Maude and their exploits as teenagers, and one summer together with Maude’s family in Kentucky. Sometimes I cry when I’m by myself, thinking of that great friendship and the gap now.

  2. This entry touched me. My mother’s dearest friend and Maude’s husband both have Alzheimer’s now. It is my mother’s greatest sorrow. Maude lives in FL and we live in PA. Their thrice-daily phone calls have trickled down to once every couple months. She doesn’t recognize the voice of my mother anymore. My mother is still very sharp but we live in the past with stories of their exploits and one summer she stayed with their family in Kentucky. Sometimes when I read something like this, I think of their lifelong friendship and the silence of our telephone. It makes me so sad. I have to remind myself that we saw Maude a few years back right after a fall. They celebrated their life together then….God gives us grace.

  3. This made me cry while sitting at a stoplight next to my teenage daughter. I’m thankful she doesn’t easily feel embarrassed.

    What a lovely tribute to your mother!

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