The proper perspective

Ed Smith
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It's all a matter of perspective. That's what the young nurse at the Health Sciences said to me one night. I was due for surgery the next day, but my potassium level was way down and needed to be brought up.

Consequently they kept feeding me liquid potassium through the night, with each dose followed by a blood check to see if I had reached the desirable levels. Dose after dose and blood check after blood check indicated I had not.

The bloodwork was getting more painful each time. I put it down to tired nurses. After the last pronounced "Ow," the nurse said, "It can't be that bad," but it was.

It didn't help that I saw her needle go in pretty well vertical with no blood as a result. I guess the nurse, after all night, got a little sick of my complaining.

"Here," she said to the very young nurse with her, "you do it."

"OK," the other one said doubtfully as she took the hypodermic, "but I've never done this before."

I couldn't quite believe that. Wasn't she a nurse? Then I realized she must be a student nurse, although the other one had left the room. Strange. I steeled myself for the worst experience of the night.

If I hadn't been watching the process, as I always do, I would not have known it was happening. The needle slipped in as though through butter and the blood rushed out.

"This is your first time doing this?" I asked the young woman.

"Yes," she said, "I'm sorry if I hurt you."

"Hurt me! It was totally painless. What did you do that was different?" She paused a moment.

"I think," she said, "that the nurse was sticking a needle in your arm. I was taking your blood."

A matter of perspective. I don't know what led her to say what she said, but she was so right. It's all in the way you look at it that determines whether or not you do something well.

A friend of mine likes to tell this story that you've probably heard. No matter. You've heard most of my stories before.

A bystander near a construction site watched two men laying bricks. The first was a little faster but he was far less careful and his mortar wasn't even, and his bricks weren't level. The bystander turned his attention to the second bricklayer. This man was more deliberate in his work. The mortar was evenly spread and the bricks were perfectly level when he laid them. The man watching was curious about the difference between the two. He spoke to the first worker.

"What are you doing?" The worker's response indicated what he thought of the question.

"I'm laying bricks," he replied, slapping on more mortar. "What does it look like?" Our friend approached the second worker.

"And what are you doing?" he asked. The second worker continued his careful application of bricks and mortar before looking up.

"Good question," he grinned. "Actually, my friend, I'm building a hospital."

A matter of perspective. He may have considered the question a little facetious and formed his answer accordingly. But I like to think that his work was so careful because he knew that what he was doing was more than just laying bricks.

When I was 16, I landed a summer job as a carpenter's helper working on an apartment building construction site in Halifax. One day I learned the lesson of my young life.

I was nailing up gyproc preparatory to the plasterers moving in. Over the outline of a door in one corner was an area needing to be completed. There were several smaller pieces of gyproc lying around so I decided to use them. They didn't fit very well, but I figured they'd be covered in plaster, anyway, so what did it matter?

Sometime after I was finished, the construction boss came around. He looked over the door frame and then at me.

"Did you do this?" His tone indicated he wasn't exactly pleased and I wondered what I'd done wrong. I nodded yes.

"Do it again," he said sharply. "That's a mess." I was never the type to back away from criticism.

"But the plaster will cover it all up," I said, "so what's wrong with it?"

"This," he said as he turned to go, "is a room where people will live. We will build it as good as we can."

A matter of perspective. A room which people, perhaps families, perhaps an old couple, will call home. And I was building it for them.

I obviously don't know what you do. You may be a nurse or a teacher or someone who looks after older people. You may climb hydro poles in blizzards or navigate the rolling decks of vessels in winter storms.

You may be one of the clergy who preaches from pulpits, or one of the janitors who sweeps up the aisles after service.

There are very few of you who haven't had similar experiences to mine or the anecdotes you just read. I hope you remember. I hope they affect the perspectives you bring to your work.

You know what? I wish I had kept this column for Labour Day. What a great way to start the new work year, assuming I'm still hired in this wonderful paper with the fantastic editor.

But the principle applies to more than just labour and jobs and work and professions. It applies perhaps more than anywhere else to parents and grandparents and foster parents and social workers.

Are you taking care of youngsters, or teaching children how to be beautiful people?

I asked first.

PS. If by any chance under heaven the young nurse in question is reading this, please drop me a line. You may have forgotten, but that night I promised you a copy of the book I would write about my health care experiences.

It's waiting for you.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is


Organizations: Health Sciences

Geographic location: Halifax, Springdale

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