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.
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.