What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 2

Alzheimer’s cannot destroy my mother’s legacy.

She was a registered nurse – not because she loved nursing or even because she had always wanted a career in medicine. She was a nurse because that was her only choice.cross necklace

During World War 2, the war effort needed more nurses. So they put out a plea for women who might be interested (male nurses did not exist at the time). If a woman signed up to be an Army nurse, the government would pay for her training and her license.

My mother wanted to be a writer, but she had no possibility of pursuing a degree at a liberal arts college. The only way she could somehow earn a degree beyond high school was to accept the Army’s offer and become a nurse.

So that’s what she did. It was her only choice, and she made it a good choice because she worked hard all her life to care for others.

Mom finished the training, but just before she was to be sent overseas, the war ended. So she never really served as an Army nurse, but her degree served her well.

I used to watch her dress for work. White uniform (always a dress, slacks were not allowed), white hose, white shoes polished every day, the starched white hat and no jewelry except a simple wedding band.

But one day, I watched as Mom slipped a tiny cross necklace underneath her uniform.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to wear any jewelry,” I queried.

“That’s right, but I wear this next to my heart,” Mom said. “It’s a reminder of who I am.”

“What do you mean?”

“This cross reminds me I’m a Christian. It helps me remember how I should behave when a doctor yells at me, when I have to tell a family that their baby is dead or when I have to clean up someone’s poop. I am serving others because I love Jesus, and he came to earth as a servant. I am serving in his name.”

I have never forgotten that moment. It is part of Mom’s legacy, a piece of who she is.

Alzheimer’s cannot take that away.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

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.