I love reading. Give me any book, fiction or nonfiction, and if it's well-written, conveys passion and conviction, and is clear and focused, I'm there. Many colleagues and readers send me books, and I've written about many of them on this page. So it was with some measure of interest that I recently picked up a new book called Reclaiming the Passion by Kristin Baird (Golden Lamp Press, 2004).
I often leaf through books I don't intend to read all the way through, and I started to treat this book that way, but I kept getting pulled back in. This is a collection of stories that celebrate nursing, a subject I am quite familiar with and interested in. These stories are powerful and moving.
Reclaiming the Passion is a collection of nurses' experiences, in their own words. Though nurses don't often write down their thoughts, Baird, a healthcare consultant, listened as these people told their riveting stories, and then compiled them in an interesting manner. Some of the stories are so moving that I had a difficult time reading them. Talk about passionate-these nurses express a total commitment to their work and patients. It's hard for me to describe what I mean because there is an almost mystical quality to these experiences.
For instance, in one chapter titled "Reaching Out from the Dark," hospice nurse Derry Bresee tells how a personal tragedy gave her new insight into and dedication to her profession. In 1997, she was in a car accident that put her in a coma for three weeks.
Here's what she remembers:
"My last real conscious memory from the day of the accident was talking on my cell phone with my boss at the hospice service where I worked. I had no recollection of the EMS extracting me and my son from the wreck or of any of the life-saving medical interventions that ensued. On the surface, to those around me, I was in a near-vegetative state, unresponsive except for basic reflexes." For the next three weeks nurse Bresee couldn't communicate or move, but she says with great certainty that when a nurse touched her she could actually tell what they were thinking and what their emotions were. "I knew which ones were optimistic about my future and which ones considered me a vegetable. I knew which ones relayed love and healing thoughts and which ones were merely going through the motions."
Bresee believes that touching is one of nurses' most crucial forms of communication with patients, and I agree, based on my own experiences. Years ago I was going through a particularly painful medical procedure and was becoming increasingly distraught. The nurse in attendance suddenly took my hand, and that made all the difference in the world. I will never forget that moment.
Then there's the story told by Suzanne Marnocha, a registered nurse and assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Marnocha had become close to a dying woman in her care. The patient was a wife and mother, and Marnocha wound up helping the woman's family as well. Nurses, Marnocha has come to believe, should become close with their patients, especially those at life's end. Such relationships are part of the power of the nursing profession. "The closure we feel in saying goodbye is vital to us as human beings. Somewhere, somehow, somebody thought it was a good idea to put up artificial boundaries under the guise of professionalism. We were trained to think that we don't need to get involved, to say goodbye or to grieve the loss of a patient. That is so wrong. We do need to go to funerals. And it is OK to grieve and to maintain relationships with families when appropriate. Commitment is a two-way street, and part of our professional responsibility is to put ourselves out there. Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way, because the commitment to our patients is what makes the nursing profession what it is."
I agree. Too often I hear the phrase, "It's not professional" in other disciplines, but too often those words are spoken to cover up the inadequacies and fears that so many individuals have concerning their dealings with others, whether it's in sales or law or any other discipline.
Another nurse, Maureen Gosser, told Baird the story of a woman named Gert. She was a woman in her 90s who had just had a hip replacement. It was during the Thanksgiving holiday and the woman begged Gosser to spend time with her, saying "I will pay you $5 if you will just sit and talk with me for a while." Gosser realized she had gotten so caught up with her many tasks that she had forgotten her real priorities. "To this day, I cry when I think back on that experience. Gert taught me an important lesson about balancing priorities with patients' needs. Nursing care isn't always medical care. Sometimes the most important thing we can give our patients is just a few minutes to let them know we value them as human beings."
The stories told in this riveting book are as powerful as anything you will ever read. They remind us that caregiving is a special profession. As one of the nurses says, "Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
Nurses are angels in disguise, and without them healthcare institutions would be cold places, devoid of feeling.
They make it happen,
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