The Heart of Nursing

This past summer, three of my regular patients died.  In the client population I care for, complex illnesses, poor prognosis and greatly advanced age are the norm.  Yet when someone whom I have come to know passes away, it still comes as a shock.

The profession of nursing is as much an art as it is a science.  In an increasingly technologically advanced healthcare system, nurses may feel that computer programming is a mandatory skill.  Nurses are expected to handle computerized pumps, monitors, even patient records.  In school, our brains are crammed with pathology, physiology, biology, pharmacology, theory, not to mention the practical skills we need in order to provide quality care.  There seems little time to learn the art of nursing.

It’s only when we allow ourselves to encounter the human side of our patients that we begin to develop the art, develop the heart of nursing.  We need to give ourselves the time and permission to look well beyond the clinical diagnosis and get to know the person – their concerns, fears and hopes.

The danger is we become too attached, that we lose our professional objectivity.  Only with experience and maturity do we learn to care for the person but still maintain nursing objectivity that is important for seeing the illness with the proper perspective.

Those of us who work in the community – the visiting nurses – have the added challenge of seeing our patients in their home environment.  This makes objectivity harder since we get to know our patients on a deeper level in their home.  We become familiar with the smells wafting from the kitchen, their favourite chair, the soap operas on TV, even their ragged old housecoat.  The nurse gets treated more like a guest with offers of a meal which professionally, we politely decline; a piece of home-baked goodness wrapped carefully and slipped into our hand because “you have a long day ahead;” a blessing with holy water on the forehead because “you take such good care of me.”  That’s the heart of nursing.

So when a patient dies, we allow ourselves to let down our objective guard just for a little while so that we can mourn the friend we’ve lost.  I commend my deceased patients to the mercy of God and to the care of Mother Mary whether or not they are believers.  The person is still a child of God whether they know it or not.  I say I do it for them, but I think I do it more to console myself.

I prayed for each of the three patients I lost this summer and gave my condolences to their families.  And then I put up my finely-honed nursing objectivity and carried on.

Deo Gratias

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10 Responses to The Heart of Nursing

  1. Daniel Undem says:

    I will pray that God blesses your work and the work of all nurses. Thank you and all the nurses out there for all you do.

  2. Biltrix says:

    This moved me deeply and I would like to share some of the first thoughts that come to my mind from what you shared with us here. It speaks to me of the mystery of the gift and the giver.

    This — “There seems little time to learn the art of nursing” — and what you said immediately afterward stuck out to me, for some reason. There is a beautiful distinction underlying your words here. Science, as most people understand it, is in the book learning. The art or skill comes with experience. And you say that as you develop the art, you develop the heart. I think, if I understood you correctly, that there is a tiny bit more to it that makes the extra difference. That heart has to be there in the first place, because you cannot develop what you do not already have. The heart God gave you was always there, with the seed of your nursing vocation planted in it. They grew together and developed toward a single purpose. Your caring skill and love for your patients gently leads them toward their final encounter with the living God. How beautiful is that! That’s a gift. And to she who has been given, much more will be given. Thank you and God bless you!

  3. Biltrix, it’s I who have to thank you. It’s a great privilege to be a nurse.

  4. Perpetua says:

    This is a great post and I agree with you that nursing is a vocation and requires both compassion and objectivity. I have been privileged to meet many excellent nurses in the community and in hospitals.

    I have been reading the biography of Edith Cavell and intend to write about this book when I get round to it… She, with Florence Nightingale and many other pioneers, have a great deal to teach us.

    Thanks for this.

  5. 1catholicsalmon.com has nominated 8kidsandabusiness for the ‘Super sweet blog Award’ as a big thank you for a great blog.

  6. I know what you mean. The personal side of working with clients makes it hard to be professional on both sides. But it’s necessary, to avoid all kinds of possible corruption.
    God bless you for staying with it.

  7. reinkat says:

    Beautiful post. The gift and blessing in nursing, and many other professions, is gaining the wisdom along with the knowledge, and balancing the two. God bless you in your work.

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