Fine, Thanks for Asking

In 2002 my mother had a heart attack. At the time, she was working alongside me at the salon (she's also a licensed nail tech, but that's another story!) in the afternoons and going to school to become a massage therapist.

I am not — have never been and never will be — a morning person. I was still tucked soundly in bed at just past 8:00 that September morning when the phone rang. I answered to hear my mother inform me, in a very calm voice, that her assistant instructor was driving her to the emergency room because my mother thought she might be having a heart attack.

????!!!! Did I mention that my mother was very calm? Downright matter-of-fact even.

And that's how I learned that when faced with such a situation, I go to work. I asked Mom if she wanted me to meet her at the ER, but Mom said that wasn't necessary. That I should go ahead and go on with my day as planned and that she'd call me back to let me know what happened.

And so I did. All I could think was, "OMG, what if something happens to my mom? What if I have to step in and take over her house payments? And her 14 cats and her giant dog? I can't just cancel clients and lose that money! I need to go to work!"

It was a very surreal day. My clients were all (and still are) accustomed to Mom being in the salon, so it wasn't surprising at all when I was asked several times during the day, "Where's your mom?"

What was surprising — and very annoying — was that when I answered, "She's in the hospital; they think she had a heart attack this morning," every single one of my regular clients who personally knew my mother casually went on with their conversation as though I had merely said that my mother had run to Starbucks for lattés. In fact, to this day, a couple of those same clients have no memory of that day. They never processed the information that day and they don't even realize that they were there and that that's how they reacted.

At the time, I remembered some of the stories from other nail techs over the years that had been shared on the BeautyTech forums. One tech, I remember, had had a mastectomy and had returned to work two weeks before her doctor recommended (we just can't afford the down time, y'know). But it took her several hours to complete a fill because she was still sick and sore — and she told us how some of her clients complained that it was taking so long.

And one tech had a bottle of polish break in her hand when she tried to remove the cap; it cut her hand up pretty bad and as her coworker and she rushed out the door to the emergency room, the unpolished client said, "Aren't you going to finish my nails first?" as blood gushed from the tech's hand.

Today I was reading the tales of a colleague who recently underwent surgery and had to take a moment to vent about how some of her clients reacted — selfishly, more concerned with making sure their polish was perfect for a special event than with the tech's personal health. And we're not talking about a boob job here, or having a mole removed — we're talking real surgery. The kind that reminds me to send that tech a personal e-mail to say, "Wow, had no idea, glad to hear that you're still typing!"

It is always a sobering experience to be reminded so harshly just how self-absorbed our culture is. I certainly can't say for certain that I've never done something so stupid and shallow. And I'd be surprised if my reactions to major news haven't been misinterpreted as such — I never know just exactly what to say.

It's always a joy to discover that you've genuinely made a lifelong friend from the client/tech relationship ... and so heartbreaking when someone with whom you've shared years of your life and theirs turns out to not be paying attention.

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