GORDON SANITAIRE by Gordon Urquhart (XI)

The Life You Have  

At this time of the year it is good to look back and consider moments in life where we were lucky, where we could have gone another way, but didn’t. We all have things to be grateful for, and I more than most have reasons to count myself very lucky. If circumstances had been different I might have wound up working in the public education system or the public health system or voting for the Australian Democrats or some other almost unimaginably shocking turn of events might have befallen me. But it didn’t: I turned out alright in the end, as regular readers will know, but I always take a reflective moment at Easter to give thanks for the life I have (while allowing myself a little shudder at what might have been).

When I was very young I recall our head gardener cutting the grass one bright morning, and working extra fast to get the lower lawns ready for a garden party to be hosted by Mumsy and the Senator that afternoon. When the lawn was mowed the men could start erecting marquees and moving tables and chairs about, and Bert knew that, and he worked as fast as he could. I don’t recall clearly how it happened, but I was watching Bert, and he stopped mowing to sharpen the blades of his machine – this was well before engines on lawn mowers – and then tested the edge’s sharpness against hair on the back of his arm. The blades spun hard and I called out to Bert from behind the old Moreton Bay Fig, and he looked up, and most of his left little finger lay on there on the ground, slowly oozing blood. I felt responsible, for some reason, and helped wind up Bert’s hand in his shirt, and I went to get help from next door.

I calmed the patient and stayed with him, and it made me feel good about myself that I could help him while we waited for help to come.

Young Calder Smyth (later a Supreme Court judge) was home after his final law exams and he offered to take Bert to the hospital in his new sports car. Calder gave me a piece of advice I never forgot. He said nursing is very specialised work. It’s almost a calling, like becoming a Vicar or something. It isn’t for people such as us; very public-spirited women we don’t know devote their lives to this work, for very little reward, and we hope they will be good to us if we need them, and we donate money to hospital funds as regularly as we can. And in the meantime we do the work we are best suited to – maybe even running a hospital, or the health department, one day – and try to make life as comfortable for our nurses as we can.

“And besides,” he said, “it’s women’s work. You’re not a woopsy, are you?”

Calder cured me of a life in nursing there and then. No, the law was right for me. I knew that deep down. The law was the best possible way I could make a contribution to the common good. This made eminent sense to my idealistic six year-old mind, and the reasoning has never left me.

Published in: on April 10, 2012 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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