There was still one step left in the terminal disinfection process: carbolyzation of the bed. A powerful disinfectant solution was wiped over the entire bed frame and mattress. Again without protective gear, I washed down every nook and cranny of the metal bed: the wheels, legs, hand crank, the underside of the mattress – while lifting it up with my left hand – and the metal slats it rested on – using my right hand. Having finished carbolyzing it, I re-made the bed with clean linens. The bottom sheet, applied with regulation mitered corners, had to be tight enough that a quarter could bounce on it if tossed from above.
What a taste of (professional) nursing I got that day! It wasn’t farm work, but it didn’t feel to me like Angel of Mercy work either. And yet, I didn’t question the experience or puzzle over why nurses did work that had no patient contact. Nor did I wonder whether I still wanted to be a nurse. I did!
Less than a decade later, my once-innocent student nurse self collided with my then working-full-time-in-a-small-community-hospital Registered Nurse self. Unacceptable working conditions finally prompted me to question why, but having my questions dismissed forced me to reconcile my idealized concept of professional nursing with union membership. I put all my energy into leading a union drive for the RNs in the workplace, and we succeeded. We became a hospital collective bargaining unit represented by the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA). As the spokesperson for our workplace Registered Nurses, I participated in the bargaining process, sitting at the table consulting with the ONA representatives as we negotiated our first collective agreement with the employer. Our voices were finally heard. I was proud of my professional self and of my professional nurse colleagues.