I have finally cleaned out the attic in preparation for a move. My speed at tackling this chore is directly related to what “treasures” I find. Sometimes I need to take time to look over the objects, reminisce and then struggle whether they get packed or pitched.
A few days ago I found two of my nursing caps tossed together in a plastic bag. My particular cap was a linen rectangle that needed to be starched before it was folded into a wing-sided emblem of the nursing profession that sat on the back of my head—held on with a bobby pin. It looked something like this.
What I found was one flat cap and one that had been worn, still with the bobby pin, two straight pins that held the black band on and a stud that joined the cap together in the back. I bet I took the cap off years ago not thinking I would never wear it again. Both caps were dotted with rust spots.
I didn’t feel any sentimentality when I tossed the caps away. Many years ago I had come to terms with the reality that their inconvenience out ranked their symbolism. One thing I did like about my cap was that is was so simple compared to other caps—like the cup cake ones that sat on top of a nurse’s head.
So simple that, when nursing caps still held prestige, I would make a miniature version with a sheet of letter size white paper and give it to my young female patients.
One recipient stands out in my memory.
In the 60s, I worked on a small cardiology research unit. Our patients, from babies to adults, stayed for days and sometimes weeks. One girl, about 14, with congenital heart problems had an impoverished background. Her brother made money by forcing her to have sex with his friends. Her mother was in prison. She couldn’t read or write.
After lunch, she and I would sit in the patient lounge reading outdated magazines. I don’t remember how long she stayed on the unit or how much progress we made. I do remember making her a nurse’s cap, which she immediately put on her head.
After she was discharged, she sent me a letter addressed to the hospital that was written by her mother’s cellmate. I recall that she told me how she was doing and what efforts she was making to learn to read.
I didn’t respond.
My old nursing caps brought back long forgotten remembrances. I don’t regret tossing them into the trash but I do regret not answering that letter.