The first carers that I was introduced to were my mama and her colleagues. It was the 1960s and they were black women who worked tirelessly in the employ of the NHS. They presented as spick and span in their starched white pinnies which overlaid their pressed brown dresses and before each shift that they worked, they perched a crisp cardboard hat – kept safe with clips – upon their coiffured, oiled hair.
I remember them as pristine angels smelling of Dettol, exuding cleanliness as they washed the vomit and incontinence from incapacitated white bodies and sluiced the soiled sheets. Their tasks were hidden in the hospital morgues and they spent an inordinate amount of time with bedpans and in the stinking sluice rooms – sharing out the privileged opportunity afforded with other black workers, eager to amass extra pennies per cleaned sheet. I saw then that the white workers were the ones visible on the wards serving tea and biscuits.
In the 1970s, l capitulated to my papa’s directive to perform a reliable career. Rebelliously, l did it my way by applying and being successful in securing one of ten places offered across England for a five year joint education degree and nursing course. I agreed that the career was deserving, but I intended to be a mover and shaker. I intended to be visible. I trained in order to be one of the decision makers.