The Pink Ghetto by Mary Jo Reimer
Life through the early 1960s was very different from what we women experience now. As I was growing up, I had a strong interest in the healthcare world, but my ambition waned as I allowed myself to become indoctrinated in the prevailing idea that a woman’s place is in the home raising children. Both my mother and my older sister had large families, and had little time for wearing fancy aprons, but they were very happy and content with their lives.
With such role models, little did I dream I would be working outside the home throughout my life. Indeed, I became the consummate career woman. I never even owned an apron. I preferred smart suits and trashy shoes—colorful high heels with bows, ankle straps, and open toes.
Although I spent many years in the accounting field and experienced a pleasant level of success, I was never really content—but I made do. My restlessness propelled me to change jobs frequently, but always to a higher rung up the ladder. During this time, I was married and raising children. Everyone thought I had it all. Along the way, I became controller of a pension plan located in Los Angeles. While I was there, I hired Pat, a young man who became my good friend.
Unfortunately, in the early 1980s, my life was torn apart by a heartbreaking divorce. Pat was a source of great comfort to me, not only as a top-notch employee, but as a caring and reliable friend.
As I am sure we all recall, that same period of time also ushered in the advent of the AIDS epidemic. Pat contracted the disease and suffered a painful course until his death some two years later. As he deteriorated, he had no one to help him through his ordeal. His family was a distance away from him, not only geographically, but emotionally as well. It was natural that I should help him and I was glad to do so.
It was rewarding to make a difference in someone’s life, although we who cared also needed support and counseling as we supported our buddy. For a diversion from such overwhelming sadness, I did stand-up comedy. My persona was a glamorous and flamboyant mother. I wore my hair spiked, tight-fitting dresses with short skirts, and knee-high, red leather boots with very high heels. Again, it was a far cry from housewifely aprons and genteel afternoon teas. I was with APLA (AIDS Project Los Angeles) for six years and was honored to be the recipient of their award for volunteer of the year in 1990.
By this time, my children were all living independently, and I was in a position to quit working and enroll in school. My interest in the healthcare world had never completely disappeared, and after a couple of classes just for fun I decided to become a nurse. It felt right. For four years, year-round, I studied hard, engrossed in my classes and clinicals, and enjoyed every minute of them. I also switched to wearing plain white shoes—without high heels.
At the age of sixty, I became a registered nurse with an associate degree. The day of my RN boards was one of the happiest days of my life—and also, a great relief. My goal was to work in an AIDS hospice, and upon graduation that is exactly what I did. In the year 2001, I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to South Africa to continue in the battle against AIDS.
I am now in my seventies, and I continue to work because I find what I do to be so rewarding. Being an RN has not only fed me literally, but spiritually as well. Thank goodness the “pink ghetto” days attributed to nursing are long gone. Society has come to realize what an important role we play in life—and in death.
No one told me it would be an easy career, but it has been worth every minute I have put into it. The apron I have adopted is one that is colorful, but otherwise plain and sturdy—a metaphor for my life as a nurse.
click here to see Mary Jo’s adopted apron<