When I was asked to submit a post on “My First Time…” it conjured up all sorts of answers, images, and no-go areas. Especially at my age, 40+ and a bit, there have been more firsts than I can remember, some more memorable than others. The usual ones of, my first love, my first car, my first job etc. However, there is one First that is not that common for a man of my age group. Let me expand.
I am of an age group where men in the healthcare profession were primarily Doctors, Dentists or pharmacists. The number of male nurses was very low, even more so in a small community like the Channel Islands. In fact, the children of many family friends would argue that I could not be a nurse as “that’s a girl’s job”. Even worse than that, was the stereotype, that when I was engaged to be married to my first wife, people did not believe me that I was marrying a woman because “aren’t all male nurses gay”.
Oh, how times have changed, well, that’s what the naïve tend to believe. That is another topic for discussion another day. So, you can see that for a young man in his early 20’s, going into what was then seen as a predominantly female environment was rare. In fact, when I started my training, I was the only male in the class. This was a whole new world to a young 24yr old man.
So, one of my “firsts” was how to communicate to women/girls, not on a one-to-one basis, as I have had girl “friends” growing up, but rather as a collective. Sitting in a class listening to their conversations, or worse, as an Ann Summers shop had just opened that year, I had to sit next to them in class (pre lecture of course) discussing what they may buy, or have bought, lingerie etc. I was having my eyes opened and learning constantly, whether by choice or not.
So, what is the first I remember; it was ‘the first time I washed a woman’. There was no escape, no trying to avoid the task, no excuses, the job had to be done. Oh dear, did I say “the job had to be done”, understandably washing a patient is not “a Job” but rather an act of care, support, and providing a service to someone in need.
Helping someone in need has always been a default setting of mine, and over the years, I’ve provided first aid etc to many people. Now, I was faced with my biggest challenge, – washing a female patient. Not a big issue you may say, but bearing in mind my sheltered background, the gender differential generation I was born into, this was a Big Deal. There were, and even today, several factors at play.
Firstly, my embarrassment. I had never washed anyone else in my entire life, not even a baby at this point, basically I had to grow up. No longer was I a 24yr old boy with a naked woman, but rather I was nurse providing care to someone, who by no choice of their own needed it. My ability to hide my embarrassment, was crucial to the patient, they needed to feel at ease with me, and if I was not at ease we could end up with a perpetual cycle of uncomfortable awkwardness.
Secondly, the embarrassment of the patient, an older lady who could no longer wash herself. Again, this draws on the understanding of generational differences, after all the current older generation feel embarrassed when they have to ask for help, they “don’t want to be a bother”. Also, there was the probability as an older lady, very few men had ever seen her naked, especially her “private parts”. I will add at this point, I did have a female nursing mentor/tutor with me. Never the less, to this lady a man was going to be washing her, or at the very least supporting her, where she could not do it herself.
Thirdly, there was the age gap. It doesn’t matter how often we talk about equality, “age doesn’t matter”, etc. Older people will always see the age difference. My patient said to me, “I am sorry.” Of course, I replied “why?”, and she said “a young man shouldn’t have to do something like this.” Those words hit me square in the chest, because the tone used, they way it was said, and those words summed up exactly the situation we found ourselves in. My need for feeling comfortable doing what I was doing was irrelevant, my role was not just to “provide care”, but rather, make that person feel supported, cared for, and most importantly valued as an individual.
From that point on, I never felt embarrassed, but rather had an increased compassion for those I cared for, and looked after. After all, for me this was more than a job, this was vocation. The dictionary defines Vocation as; “a person’s employment or main occupation, especially regarded as worthy and requiring dedication.” I highlighted the second phrase in the sentence because to me that is what I was about, it was a worthy job, a job that brought value into peoples lives, that supported, and cared for the most vulnerable when they wanted and needed it most. Individual lives, individuals with a history of their own, individuals who have the same needs and desires as you and I, these people requiring my dedication, and I gave it to them fully.
Notes on the Author and illustrator
Luke Nicholle is a blogger we came into contact with very early on in our blogging journey. It is an honour to host him on Hyacinth for the Soul and what better way to feature him, than to have a soulful insight in to his life as a male nurse. You can follow Luke on his blog www.discusslife.net, where he discusses life through the physical, psychological and spiritual realms of being.
All of the illustrations provided throughout #MyFirstTime are the original and bespoke works of Monty Vern. Monty has also created “My First Time…Behind the Scenes” – a companion series to #MyFirstTime. In this series Monty allows us to take a walk through his mind when creating images for My First Time. A collaboration in every sense, when you get a glimpse into the inner workings of a creatives mind! Keep up with the whole series by following T.B.C and Monty Vern.