311. Dream Job

It may be because I have such low standards.

During the 66 years since I got my first job, I had several “dream jobs”. I still remember them fondly.

Among them was my very first real job. As an elevator operator at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Don’t snicker. I wistfully remember every minute of the two years I spent operating that big, faithful, cranky, old Otis elevator.)

It was 1945, just before World War II ended.

When I applied for the part-time job that was posted by the hospital, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. They actually hired me! My only previous experience was as a “paperboy” delivering Des Moines Register morning newspapers.

I was only 14 years old, but there were no child labor laws at that time. Hospitals in wartime couldn’t afford to be choosy, and any young ones hired were expected to work side-by-side delivering good work along with everybody else.

I was paid – handsomely – at 40 cents per hour. All my friends were stuck babysitting and delivering newspapers, and there I was – awarded this “high-paying” position of what I considered to be an almost sacred responsibility.

Every day there was full of drama and of what I believed to be my important role in it. I never ceased to be awestruck.  Over-zealous can’t begin to describe it.

The people I transported on the Otis elevator were doctors, nurses, technicians, other staff, nuns, priests, messengers, patients, and visitors. I was convinced they couldn’t successfully complete their life-saving tasks without my professional intervention “elevating” them up and down.

There were actually two elevators in Mercy Hospital at the time.  Besides the antiquated Otis elevator which I operated, there was a “modern” electric elevator which the passengers could operate themselves at the other end of the hospital.  Because it was new technology, however, it kept breaking down, thus forcing passengers to either climb the stairs, or to seek out our noisy old Otis elevator at the other end of the hall.

The Otis was large enough to accommodate a gurney and several people as well.    Once everybody was on board, I had to pull shut a big door, and then slide closed a gate that further enclosed our space.  My left arm still has the biceps to prove it.

Once I had everybody on board, I would ready for take-off.  Creaking and wheezing, the elevator would go up when I pulled the crank toward me, or down when I pulled it forward. I almost always got it to work.

The hospital had five floors for patient care: I think Surgery was on fifth, Medical on fourth, Obstetrics and Nursery on third, offices, lobby, and chapel on first, and the Emergency Room and Pediatrics was on the basement floor.

Nearly every shift I worked was fraught with drama.  No babies were delivered on my elevator, but they sure came close.  Enclosed within the walls of the Otis, I literally observed life and death unfolding in front of me.

Besides women in labor, hospital staff and dozens of visitors, I dutifully transported dead people, accident victims, worried relatives, nervous surgery patients being escorted to their assigned rooms, heart and stroke victims sometimes unconscious, and frantic families.  There was blood, tears, a few screams, broken bones, terror, joy, happy patients being wheeled down for discharge, and sometimes terrible despair, sadness and grief. 

For a fourteen-year-old – or anybody else – there were many life lessons to be contemplated on that elevator.

And there were jokers, too.  At least once every shift one of my passengers would say to me with an evil grin, “You sure must have your ups and downs!”

I worked on the Otis for two years – part-time during the school year – and nearly full-time during the summers. Later on I worked as an information clerk, and still later as a registrar.  I worked at Mercy Hospital for six years altogether, till I went away to school.  Since I was also born in the same hospital, I figure much of my youth was spent there.  That’s probably why I find myself mentioning it so frequently on these blobs.

According to my standards, my gig as an elevator operator was definitely a “dream job”. A dream job is one which must never EVER bore you.

Plus that – okay, let’s face it, it was the only time in my life when I was able to professionally operate a “vehicle”.  I loved how the elevator would go up when I pulled the crank back, and down when I pushed it forward.  No matter how hard I tried in my later life, I could never get the shift on an automobile to be so friendly.

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One Response to 311. Dream Job

  1. A relative says:

    Awesome blob! I knew you worked as an elevator operator but I never thought about all of the drama that would occur in that little space and time. I would have thought it would be a tedious first job doing the same task over and over again but you showed me a different point of view. You were grateful for the job and your small wages and also proud of the small part you were playing working at the hospital where you were born. Isn’t it ironic you ending up slaving away at the Seattle Children’s Hospital for all those years?


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