Jane Olivo has been a registered nurse for the 10 years of her working life. It is what she wanted to do from the time she was 6. Listen to her talk about her job:
"I've worked on the evening shift and then the night nurse doesn't come on and they'll ask if I can stay until 3 o'clock in the morning. I know I'm going to catch it when I get home, but I do it. It's awful! It's stupid! It's sick! I know that it's not appreciated and it's bad for nursing as a profession."
Why then does she do it?
"I can't put my finger on it," replies the 32-year-old nurse, who now works part-time in the emergency room of a major Washington area hospital. "But I'm not alone in doing it.
"I mean, who suffers if I don't? The patient suffers. I mean, you pay an outrageous amount for hospitalization and, gosh, at least you can get taken care of and not just get left. I mean, how could, how can, how could anyone just walk out? I can't imagine it."
Like just about every other nurse in the Washington area, Olivo has spent the past 21 days reading every word she could about the strike by registered nurses at the Washington Hospital Center. "We all want to know what's going to happen, how it will affect us, how the nurses will have their hands slapped when they go back to work," she says.
Olivo ignored her mother's advice to become a teacher and left her hometown of Somerset, Pa., for Pittsburgh and the West Penn Hospital School of Nursing 75 miles to the east because she "felt it was what I wanted to do. It was an ingrained kind of thing. I like helping people, and I like feeling that I was contributing, doing something positive."
Nursing was a different profession in 1965, at least in how nurses viewed themselves and their role in health care. "We were still in the school of thought where you stand and give the doctor your seat when he enters the room. Whatever the doctor said was done.
"You were a pleaser," she continued. "Whenever they were making rounds on your floor you wanted to make it as pleasant as possible for the doctors. You had everything out for them, you had to know what they liked. You had to follow a little set of rules (for each doctor) if you wanted to be a favorite nurse or didn't want to get into trouble." Attitude, she said, was stressed as much or more than nursing skills.
She left school for a job in a New Bedford, Mass., intensive care unit, and for the next nine years worked as a critical care nurse, "which is a further element of anger on my part because my salary is identical to the staff nurses (who have fewer responsibilities and who need not be as skilled). I make $6.01 an hour," or $12,500 a year if she worked full-time. "I've had $2.90 in hourly pay increases in the past 10 years, or 29 cents a year, and I have the check stubs to prove it."
And for the past 10 years she has never spent two consecutive weekends with her husband, Joseph, and son, John, unless she was on vacation. She has worked every other weekend and constantly rotated between day, evening and night shifts until she volunteered for permanent evening shifts.
"If you have a family, your husband really gets . . ." she paused, not sure how to continue. "When you've come home, you've worked late, and you're not getting great pay, and you have a husband who says to you, 'I'm really getting tired of (your) evenings, I'm really getting tired of this lousy pay that you get and you're killing yourself.'"
"You come home and you're so emotionally distraught, especially when I worked in intensive care and we were low staffed and I had three sick people and you always had to work overtime because we just couldn't get the work done." She explained that it became routine at times for her midnight quitting time to drift to 1:30 a.m.
She was paid for overtime, but only overtime that could be "justified to the supervisor. If I was doing paper work I wouldn't claim the overtime, and I wasn't alone. There were lots of us who felt that way. We tried to protect the hospital, as much as we could; I don't want to abuse it.
"But if I have all this education, if I have to take all these (continuing education) courses . . ." she paused again, and then went on: "We seem to get out worth from our dollar value, from that we're paid, and you just get tired of this. All the wives get harangued by their husbands (who say 'Why don't you get out of nursing, find another kind of job, do anything else? I'm sick and tired of never seeing you, never having you home in the evenings. We've been doing this for 10 years!"
Olivo says she is sick of what she believes are the bad hours and bad pay, and of working through lunch and dinner hours without compensation - "we just never ask" - being reprimanded by physicians in front of patients, being told "so quit" when asking for changes in rountine, being treated as "tools, interchangable tools" in a health care machine.
But despite all that, Olivo says she would never walk a picket line like the nurses at the hospital center. "If it came to that point, I'd leave nursing before I'd strike, and I'm almost at that point now. I'm at the point where I'm trying to decide what to do. I can't take this hospital situation much longer. I hate the thought of leaving nursing, but . . .
"I hate the thought of leaving nursing because it's been my whole life. I thrive in it. But I can't take this poor pay, this constantly knowing that I'm going to work weekends, that I'm going to rotate. But either I accept it or I get out."