It is my practice to write about things I know very little of, such as physics, politics and football. Inevitably, I often insult large groups of people. This may be caused by ignorance and stereotyped attitudes, but never by malice.
Writing recently about the job preferences of third-graders, I observed that none of the 21 pupils whose preferences I listed wanted to be nurses, though, as I pointed out, the profession had always been open to women and there was always the image of Florence Nightingale to inspire them.
This disclosure provoked a letter from Alne Schumacher, a nurse of 46 years, who said she herself was "very disenchanted" with nursing, which she called "a thankless, grueling, underpaid profession with the greatest responsibility."
I merely quoted this nurse's complaint, not endorsed it, but I have received a number of complaints from nurses who cherish the profession and chastise me for printing nurse Schumacher's complaint.
"I usually avoid your column," writes Linda Mann of Northridge, "knowing that your anti-feminist nature causes me to be angry with most of what you write. However, when I saw it was about nursing, I read it, and once again became angry."
It is curious that many people who say they rarely read my column do read it when it happens to make them angry. Just my bad luck, I guess. Actually, I don't think I have ever deliberately written anything anti-feminist except to express my dislike of non-sexist synonyms for manhole cover and my conviction that no woman will ever play third base in major league baseball.
Mann is a nurse too, but she says she would not encourage anyone to become one, "due to many of the reasons given by Alne Schumacher, and because of the lack of respect for the profession which is perpetuated by people like you, who feel the need to associate nursing with bedpans."
(Perhaps that was a cheap shot. A Whittier doctor had sent me a sentence of impenetrable gobbledygook from a nurses' textbook, suggesting that such bilge might explain a lack of excitement in nursing, and I commented, irrelevantly, that perhaps it concerned bedpans.)
Anne Rubin, a nurse at Rio Mesa High School, Oxnard, said she regrets that none of the children chose nursing. "If only there were a way to publicize nursing the way it really is, with all its challenge, interest, variety, satisfaction and steadily improving pay. The real Florence (Nightingale) was smart, assertive, innovative and a marvelous organizer--the picture of a 1990 nurse."
Keira Dillon of the UC San Diego Nursing Administration concedes that the work may sometimes be thankless and grueling, but she points out that there are also many compensations, including pay, which can go from $30,000 for graduates up to $50,000 for experienced nurses.
I would like to say straight out that I have the highest regard for nurses. They, indeed, as some readers pointed out, have saved my life. They work hard, they are dedicated, they are skilled, they are unfailingly good-natured, and they are undoubtedly underpaid and under-appreciated. Is it sexist to say that I understand why men fall in love with their nurses? I suppose so.
On the question of nursing, I feel I was an innocent victim of an opinion I happened to quote. However, I was indeed guilty of a thoughtless insult to the profession of massage therapy.
Noting that one child said she wanted to be a masseuse, I commented crudely, "Now why would a little girl want to grow up to work in a massage parlor?"
If you think the nurses were annoyed, you should read my mail from masseuses, or massage therapists, as they prefer to be called. The gist of them is that massage therapy is a legitimate profession that does a great deal to alleviate pain and stress, and that no legitimate massage therapist would cross the threshold of a massage parlor.
"Massage therapists do not work in massage parlors," writes a member of that profession (signature illegible), "prostitutes do. It is obvious that in Jack Smith's article the inspired little girl knows more about massage therapy at 8 years old than the literate newspaper professional does."
"I am a professional 'masseuse,' although like most people in my profession," writes Brenda Earner of Ventura, "I prefer the term 'massage therapist' or "bodywork therapist.' I have never set foot inside a 'massage parlor.' "
To tell the truth, neither have I.
"Massage therapy has been a legitimate profession long before there were any massage parlors," says Joan Hillerts, a licensed and certified massage therapist.
It is my good fortune that Hillerts includes a certificate entitling me to one free massage therapy session.
Don't think I'm not going to take her up on it. I know what nurses can do. But I've never had a massage.