Fulfilling My Dream to Help People in Need
A Memoir by Chandra Misra
Ever since I trained and became a nurse after emigrating to the USA, I have thought about writing this story. Recently, The Berhampur University, at my native state of Odisha in India, requested me to address a conference to encourage the nursing students at their University. My mind wandered back to my girlhood dreams of becoming a doctor, my early marriage and the opportunity in 1982 I took to enroll in nursing school in the USA rather than choosing another profession.
My childhood good friends Indrani, Rekha, Ira and Kamalini all became doctors. They were each intelligent and hardworking and their families supported them to pursue higher education. Like them I, too, wished to be a doctor ever since I was in high school.
We often talked about it, and I used to study hard in school to get good grades in science subjects. They all became doctors and found work in their field.
I also could have become a doctor. I was equally intelligent and was a hardworking student. That did not happen since I got married when I was eighteen years old.
In India generally, in my time and at our home, fathers used to make the decision as to where and when a daughter will marry. My father had decided to arrange my marriage to a suitable person that could take care of me financially, emotionally and every other way.
I don’t think I had any choice in that matter, either whom I should marry or when I could marry. My mother had died when I was ten months old due to some unknown disease. My father’s reason for my early marriage was that since I did not have a mother and he was getting old, he must finish my marriage “while he was still alive.” So, the sooner I married and left to join my husband, my father would be free from the burden of having a young girl at home to supervise.
The dream of working in the healthcare field as a doctor and helping sick people did not happen for me, although I heard from some of my friends that my close friends had earned admission to medical school at that time.
I reconciled to getting a degree from a university while being married and having young children. I finished my B.A degree in Mumbai in India where we lived for seven years. Opportunity was limited since I was married with young children. I could only attend college in the morning. The college was close by, but it only offered liberal arts subjects.
I had two children to care for and housework as well. So, without any fuss about which subjects to take for a degree, I opted to attend college and get a degree. I used to see the women working at banks, schools, etc. and thought of trying to get a job like they did some day. My husband was employed and earned a good salary, and he never asked me to work or study, I got support from him to continue my education.
After a few years working at Mumbai, my husband decided to emigrate to the USA for a better job – like so many people, who got an opportunity, did at that time. That is how we came to Chicago in 1977.
After we settled down in the new country and in a new home, I felt very lonely and wished to do something that would bring me more satisfaction. So, I looked into the nearby community college, which offered many classes and at a reasonable cost.
Taking classes in accounting and in computer science so I could find a job to supplement our family income, while my children were in school full time, the thought of studying in the health sciences often came to my mind, but I consoled myself that it couldn’t happen, since science education needed more time due to the required laboratory and practical course work.
I used to study in the library and met many students there. I saw many nursing students who studied there. I loved their white outfits and the way they communicated with others. It seemed they were more kind and helpful to other students and staff. Finally, I checked with one student about the subjects one needs to take to become a nurse. She gave me some information and asked me to see a guidance counselor in the office.
Next day I made an appointment to see the counselor and talked to my husband about it. He did not know much about health science, but when I told him my plan to go for nursing, he said, “Is it not very hard work physically and mentally? Why do you wish to go for that?”
I told my dream of wanting to help sick people, and to try my luck in the healthcare field. Having two children I could not think of trying for medical school, but nursing sounded doable for me at that time. He has always been very supportive and said that it is up to me, but I must first visit a hospital or a nursing home to observe how nurses work to get an idea about the profession.
Luckily, there was a nursing care facility for older people near our home. On weekends I could go and observe the work of the nurses there. Sometimes I used to sit with some elderly ladies and read to them. Later I took up volunteer work there helping elderly people, feeding those that could not manage by themselves. As crazy as it seemed to others, I liked to work in the jumping-jack chaotic atmosphere. I thought, “This is for me.”
I returned to college in the fall semester to make sure that I took all the prerequisite classes for the nursing program. A nun, Sister Rita, in charge of the nursing admission department at the University, met me. She saw my certificates from India and asked me a few questions. One question I still remember well: “You have a B.A in Economics and Mathematics, yet why are you thinking of getting into a nursing program? You could try to get into business school.”
Without much thinking, I told her that I always wished to work in the healthcare field and to help sick people. Due to circumstances at home in India, it had not happened, but I wished to try for it now. She looked at me and told me it is hard work mentally and physically, which my husband had already told me. I smiled and told her, “Yes, I know, but I am passionate about it and will not have any problems.”
After taking the entrance examination, my grades came back by mail. I did well and got admission into the nursing program at Gwynedd Mercy University in 1984. I got some credits transferred, since I had a B.A degree. After 4 years of hard work, I got my degree and became a registered nurse (R.N.), which may not be the thing for an Odia, Brahmin and married woman. It was a great degree in the USA and everybody congratulated me. It had been hard work, but I was happy and felt good that finally I became a nurse and could work the way I always wished.
Albert Einstein Medical Center offered me a job in the Cardiac Care Unit, which was interesting and demanding since we used to care for patients after open heart surgery in our unit.
Far from my homeland Puri, Odisha, India, I found confidence, comfort and hope that my dream to help people was to be fulfilled in the USA. It brought my future into focus and made a difference in my life. I remember when many of my friends loved the smell of sweets, talcum powder, nail polish and fragrance of jasmine flowers, I cherished the smell of freshly washed floor in our local hospital by phenyl detergent!
As a young girl, I saw a movie “Dil apana Prit Paraye” where the main female character was a nurse. When someone asked why she became a nurse, her answer was “Due to my father’s death I could not become a doctor, but I became a nurse to help sick people in need.” I looked at the sky and told myself I, too, did that because I love helping people when they are sick.
To my knowledge, perhaps I am the first Odia registered nurse in the USA from my generation at that time. I worked at intensive care, surgical, pediatric and geriatric units which were very rewarding to my soul.
Later I worked as a medical research scientist in the Pharma industry doing similar work with drug invention research processes that help sick people. For me, the USA is a land where my dream came true – to help people when they are in need – and nursing fulfills that.
Chandra Misra, a first-generation immigrant from India, came to the USA in 1977 with her two young children to join her husband, who had immigrated a few months earlier to work as a corporate research scientist in suburban Chicago. They moved to suburban Philadelphia in 1984. Chandra earned her nursing degree from Gwynedd Mercy University and worked as a critical care nurse at Albert Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia. Later she worked as a Drug Safety Associate and as a Medical Scientist at various Pharma companies. By becoming a nurse, Chandra found confidence, comfort and hope as her dream to help people was fulfilled. “Nursing brought my future into focus and made a difference in my life.” For her, the USA is the land where her dreams came true. She loves to write and to let people know about her experiences. She lives with her family in North Wales, PA.