Genuine Caring: A Nurse’s Challenge (Sep-Dec 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by Sarah Stone
September – December, 2005

I was recently asked to explain how Christian nurses help people through difficult situations. I was sure there were many other nurses much more qualified to answer. Many of my colleagues could tell of their long years of giving great comfort on a daily basis. I remember a few months ago the nurse working in hospice care who sang with me as I sang hymns over my dear friend Maryanne a day before she died. There was the “gentle giant” male nurse who was especially careful with my father-in-law as Daddy spent his last weeks in his care. He seemed to be so unhurried, took his time to make things just right. He took great care to be gentle with Daddy. He shared his faith with me when he noticed me reading my Bible. I was greatly comforted by a nurse who asked me how I was feeling – REALLY FEELING – the day after I miscarried my twins (at only 17 weeks). She sat and talked a while, handed me tissues when I cried. It was then I learned that another nurse had rocked my baby girl as she died while I was in surgery to stop my hemorrhage. Her twin had been stillborn. After 23 years I still remember the kindness of these nurses. So I suppose I am qualified to tell how nurses give comfort and care to people who are hurting emotionally, spiritually or physically. I’ve been on the receiving end. I know experiences like this help prepare me to give comfort every day. This desire to help people is what motivated me to go into this career in the first place. Twenty-eight more years of life experiences have brought maturity and empathy into play. Most nurses came into the profession with some idea of nurturing and comforting the sick. Non-Christian nurses can provide care with other motivation, but many Christian nurses are aware of our profession being our mission and a very real way of living out our Christianity.

As I reflect on those times in my life when I needed and received comfort from nurses, and as I contemplate my goal of bringing comfort to others, I think of this passage from I Corinthians 1:3-5: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” As a Registered Nurse in a Day Surgery Post Anesthesia Care Unit, I frequently have the opportunity to help people through difficult situations. These encounters with patients may only be few hours long, and not all the patients are going through particularly bad times. But I have opportunities every day to make a difference in someone’s life with simple, brief actions or comments. A patient in my recovery room may be in great pain. I can have pain medication ready and, while following Doctors’ orders, offer it early and often. I can validate a person’s pain – sometimes he needs to hear that I believe that his pain is real. Another patient might be encouraged when I tell him I have been through a similar experience and can relate to his pain. A young woman suffering a miscarriage might be comforted if I share my experience. But I absolutely respect her need to deal with this in her own way. I try to be a good listener, and if possible involve family for emotional support as soon as possible after surgery. Many times someone I am caring for hears a new diagnosis of cancer or other bad news, and perhaps his most pressing need is for me just to listen to his concerns or to hold his hand, or to pray with him.

A gentle touch, eye contact, a soft voice, a listening ear. These are all important. Sometimes I sing quietly as I go about my duties at the bedside, and have had few patients comment that the hymn was familiar and comforting. Children are sometimes comforted with a simple lullaby. And I am privileged to work in a hospital in which we are encouraged to pray with our patients, if that’s what they want. A simple, quiet prayer can be a very meaningful comfort. The best comfort can be just to know someone is sincerely concerned. Nursing is not just a science, it’s an art. A certain amount of finesse and intuition is critical every day in my practice of nursing. EVERY PERSON I encounter is a unique creature of God. Not everyone would appreciate the gestures I’ve described. Some want to keep their guard up; keep a great distance emotionally, especially in this short-term setting. Some people are at their absolute worst when sick or in pain, becoming unreasonable and even angry with the whole situation. It’s my role to keep the peace and try to figure out the best way to relate to each unique personality. Teamwork is important! I’ve heard it said that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. Could it also be that one of the best things we can do for our patients is for the nurses to love each other, or at least to be cooperative? If we support each other and have a happy atmosphere it is so much easier for our patients to get through whatever that day has in store for them.

It is also important to call in other members of the team when needed. Even in day surgery we can have visits from chaplains or social workers when this is appropriate. And whenever possible we must also include the family in this team and keep them informed when they cannot be with the patient.

It’s great to have a job in which it is easy to both literally and figuratively “give a cup of cold water” every day. Even though I rarely say this is “In the name of Jesus”, it still is done in His name. If people see Jesus in my gentleness and caring, I may be planting seeds in a searcher’s heart or encouraging a believer. If I am asked about the “hope that is within me,” I can have a “ready answer.”

I must admit that just because I want to be this wonderful, sweet, kind, caring, nurturing, compassionate, helpful, gentle nurse does not mean that I can faultlessly carry it out every day. I’m human! I have bad days. But I have learned over the years sometimes I just have to behave in a courteous and kind manner no matter what! I think this is the essence of professionalism. I treat my patients with kindness even when I’m not necessarily feeling kind on the inside. Philip Yancey said, “It is much easier to act your way into feelings than to feel your way into actions.” I have found this to be true. And isn’t action – obedience – also a primary element of Christianity? He also quotes Peter Berger: “God calls us to deal with the challenges before us, and often our most radical challenges are very little ones. The call to radical micro-obedience may mean patiently listening to someone who is boring or irritating, or treating a fellow sinner with a charity that is not easy to muster, or offering detailed advice on a matter that seems trivial to everyone but the person asking for the advice.”

Nurses learn to be great actors! As I said, my actions – my outward expressions – are what help my patients. I may “go home and kick the dog”, but I hope my patients perceive that I was unhurried and that I had nothing to do but pamper them. I hope they also perceive that deep down I am sincerely concerned!

An element that has great impact on every nurse these days is that we almost always seem to have less time than we would like to dispense T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care). But if I am to live up to my goal of helping these people get through their tough times – whatever they may be – then I must at least be mindful of my goal, conscious of my impact either for good or ill on each one. Even if I feel hurried or if I’m behind on my paperwork, I try not to let the patients see this in my face or in my actions. A patient is in a vulnerable position, dependent on me in many ways. Each one wants my undivided attention. And they certainly don’t want to hear how busy I am. Each patient should think he is the most important person I am caring for. Once again, if the perception is that he had my undivided attention, even briefly, and that I was truly concerned with every aspect of his care, then I have been instrumental in getting him through this difficult situation. If I can sit calmly at his side, even for a moment, make eye contact and be gentle in my touch, it is often perceived as excellent care, even if my mind is on ten other tasks I must accomplish in the next five minutes.

Probably the best thing I can do for many of my patients in difficult circumstances is just to be a good listener. Listening, actively listening with my body language saying I hear what is said. Reflecting back what I think is expressed. Validating concerns. Allowing unique feelings and expressions of feelings that I might not have in the same circumstances. Learning from each person how best to help.

Nurses who care for patients over many days or weeks have more opportunity to become personally involved with the patient and family. And there are other helping professions, other ways in which we can be involved in the lives of others. Christians are mandated to live out their faith in their daily actions, no matter the profession. But nurses often have the unique role of being with a person when he or she is at a most vulnerable point in life.

The mission statement of our hospital states that “We strive to provide high quality health services emphasizing excellence and Christian service in all that we do.” I’ve heard MANY people say they won’t go to any other hospital because they can tell that the people working here really care. I am sure this is because so many of us are Christians (here in the Bible Belt) and instinctively attempt to live out this mission. It isn’t easy to do this consistently when dealing with the variety of people we encounter every day. God himself, of course, works through nurses and others. With the power of his Spirit, those fruits such as patience, kindness, and gentleness become not only a way of life, but our job description.New Wineskins

Sarah StoneSarah Stone is an experienced Registered Nurse. The last several years of her employment have been in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit of Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, Texas. Some might call her very settled. This is the same hospital in which she was born and received her nursing education. She is married to Gary and has two adult sons. In addition to her nursing career and some writing, she is an accomplished singer. You might also enjoy her article Singing Outside the Comfort Zone. E-mail her at [Sarahlstone@aol.com].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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