Who works harder than a nurse? There aren’t many professions that combine lifting, running, thinking and wiping the way nursing does. Why aren’t we figured more prominently in literature, then? Is it the lack of glamour or the sheer volume of work that makes us un-write-about-able?
Probably both. In my studies, I’ve found only a few literary characters who might—might—have worked harder than we do every day. A la Letterman’s Top Ten Lists, then, my candidates:
5. Tom Swift
If you haven’t heard of Tom, get yourself to your local bookstore and get some reprints of the original series. Tom builds high-tech devices like electric cars (in the 1930s!), flying machines and spaceships; diddles around with nuclear power and X-rays; and spends his odd moments foiling the evil schemes of swarthy bad guys. He lands at number five on the list because he has the help of a school chum, his own father and a number of questionably drawn stereotypical servants.
4. Lady Macbeth
It’s hard work plotting, scheming and convincing your husband to do nefarious political things. No doubt L. Macb. spent a lot of hours lying awake at night, figuring out whom to poison next. She comes in at number four because she doubtless had a full house-staff.
3. Aladdin’s genie
He pulled hats out of rabbits, made a pauper a prince, foiled the evil schemes of swarthy bad guys and generally smoothed the way for the guy who rubbed his bottle. He doesn’t rank higher than number three, though, because he did it with magic. Nurses do similar things without any magic at all.
2. Dorothy Gale
She does the closest thing we have in literature to a nurse’s job: She walks for miles, eats bad food, nearly gets in deep trouble for falling asleep in the middle of the day, scrubs floors for Manglement and finally gets her heart’s desire by calling B.S. on the most powerful guy in the land. However, she did have help from a motley crew of friends, all of whom managed to get their work done in a timely fashion and without fuss.
1. The literary character who worked just as hard as a nurse is…Nancy Drew
Let’s be clear: It took one Nancy to accomplish what two Hardy Boys did. Whether it was figuring out the secrets of a Whispering Statue or an Old Clock, or unraveling the mysteries of a Moldy Mansion or an Attic Room, Nancy worked tirelessly and against long odds to do her job. Given the amount of time she spent unconscious or tied up somewhere, it’s a wonder she got things in by the end of the day at all. Heck, in one book she was swept out to sea during a storm, got back to land, foiled a swarthy bad guy’s evil plans and then went out to dinner.
You point out that she had Bess and George with her, and her father—but really? Dad tended to be away on business all the time, George was really only good for the heavy lifting and Bess was always getting scared and having to be dragged along. Ned Nickerson mooned around with flowers, getting in the way, and Hannah Gruen stayed put at home. Overall, Nancy had only herself to depend on when the going got weird. Put a white coat on her and bam!—she would’ve been perfectly at home in a modern hospital.
Can you think of any characters from literature who worked as hard as a nurse?