Articles,  Personal

Of Hospitals and Housekeepers: A Tribute to Healthcare Workers

As we’ve been spending time lately honoring and praying for the healthcare workers on the front lines against the coronavirus, I’ve been thinking about the members of my own family who were involved in healthcare in some way.

My paternal grandmother was a nurse. I don’t remember much about her because she died when I was in kindergarten, but here’s what I remember. She had shockingly white hair, she loved to play the piano, and she never stopped smoking.

I can still remember staring in fascination at the ash hanging off the end of a cigarette held firmly in her mouth as she played away on her giant (to me!) upright piano. I also remember having a vague sense that it would be dangerous if that bit of ash fell onto her dress or the piano, but it didn’t seem to bother her in the least.

I have no idea what type of nursing she did, but I remember my mother having a tremendous respect for her mother-in-law’s knowledge and wisdom around the care and handling of babies.

My mother also worked briefly in the healthcare industry, but in quite a different capacity. She was, what they called back then, a housekeeper. Her job was keeping the hospital clean. She worked shift work which I’m sure was difficult for her. Thankfully, my other grandmother was available to take care of me.

As part of her job, Mom had to wear a uniform. It consisted of an aqua blue, collared dress with buttons all down the front, nylon stockings, and sensible white shoes. Can you imagine asking anyone nowadays to wash floors and wipe down the furniture dressed like that? But this was the 1960’s.

nurseBack then, even the nurses wore dresses. White dresses. White shoes. White nylon stockings. And on their heads, as their badge of office, a stiff, white cap. If you’re wondering, there were no male nurses back then. At least not in the small, Canadian town where I grew up.

The men came in later, and with them, a change in the dress code. I’m sure today’s nurses appreciate being able to wear more comfortable clothing on the job. But now there is all the extra protective gear required for dealing with today’s most infectious patients. That can’t be comfortable. Change happens for the better and also for the worse.

My mom sewed her own uniforms for her job as a hospital housekeeper. She was a talented seamstress and, before I was born, had worked as a tailor in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Some of my favourite memories are of browsing through fabric stores with my mother in search of the perfect fabric and the perfect pattern for a new outfit.

What is the point of all this rambling? As you pray for and give thanks for the doctors and nurses on the front lines against COVID-19, remember also the cleaners, the technicians, the plumbers, and electricians. It takes a lot of people to keep a hospital humming.

And say a special prayer also for the clerks and administrators. They, too, are carrying a very heavy burden right now.

We will get through our present tribulations. And things could be somewhat different on the other side. But let’s continue to support one another, as much as we can, with an attitude of patience, compassion, and optimism.

don't limit yourself

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