Knocking on Wood in Nursing

The informant is my grandmother, a Cherokee woman born in 1932. She worked as a nurse for her entire career, though has been retired for some time.

In this piece, my grandmother talks about being “jinxed” in the nursing profession and what she does to combat them.

M: We would always teach the younger girls about knocking on wood.

Me: Why would you knock on wood?

M: A lot of times they would be really happy with how their day was going, and would saying something like “today’s a really good day”, and us older nurses would hate that.

Me: Why?

M: Because we felt as if they were jinxing us. So we would make them go “knock on wood” to prevent the jinx.

My grandmother has never seemed like a superstitious woman, but perhaps in her profession, where there is a lot of luck involved, superstition comes naturally. A lot that happens in nursing is unexpected and not avoidable, so having superstitions is a way to make them feel as if they are somewhat in control of the situation.