Lots of people sending me this link today.
First thing I saw when I walked into the men’s locker room at the school of nursing in 1984 was a line of graffiti scrawled beside the toilet: MALE NURSES ARE HOMOS.
Didn’t really bother me. I had just spent the summer working as a cowboy in Wyoming, so A) my personal perception of “manhood” wasn’t easily threatened, and B) the things the other cowboys said when they heard I was going to nursing school had pretty much vaccinated me against anything to follow. The only cliché that regularly pissed me off was when someone who should know better would ask me what I was studying in college, I’d reply “nursing,” and they’d say, “Oh, so you want to be a doctor.” “No,” I would explain, in tones of deepest faux-patience, “If I wanted to be a doctor I would have gone to medical school.” I’d always enunciate “medical school” as if it was drawn in all capital letters with a fat crayon.
I’m writing this on the fly, so gimme some wiggle room, but I’d argue that women in nursing suffer far more stigma and cliché than most males. Women in nursing have been operating at all levels of care and all levels of professional independence and haven’t worn white caps in decades, and yet to this day if you wanna lazy shortcut to hospital hotsexy, you trot out the white cap, the short white skirt, and drooling reference to sponge baths. When a passenger collapsed on a flight my family was aboard last year, three of us helped out: Me, a male nurse out of practice for twenty-five years and operating at a first responder level, and two highly-trained actively-practicing women both of whom worked in critical care settings. Over and over–even after I twice told her the other women were far more qualified than I–the flight attendant kept asking me what we should do next.
I never really felt any “stigma.” If anything, I reveled in bucking it. One of my fondest professional memories is of being berated by a surgeon known for reducing nurses to tears. He was just getting rolling when I stepped up to him in my best I been wrasslin’ wild cattle all summer, how ’bout you? pose and informed him that when he was ready to talk to me like a professional he could come find me down the hall. With that, I turned my back, so I’ll never know how many times his face went from that red to that white, but I did take great pleasure in his incoherent spluttering. Side note: I was wearing a bright pink shirt at the time. Kinda tight around the biceps.
In Off Main Street the essay “Scarlet Ribbons” explores how my nursing background influences my writing to this very day; Danger: Man Working, contains “Mike Is A Nurse,” a piece I wrote about the past, present, and future of male nurses. Nursing–the art and the profession–continues to imbue everything I do.
My nurse colleagues and nursing instructors remain among my most cherished mentors. I of course had no idea I’d veer off into writing. It happened almost without me realizing it. I renew my nursing license every two years, and use it every day, because nursing is about human assessment…and what is writing but human assessment?
Anyway, every now and then I like to sign off this way: Michael Perry, RN, BSN
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