Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Nurse's Truth: In Healing You, I Healed Myself

I have had a life-long struggle with self-worth. I remember, even as a young child, feeling ever so different from those around me. It felt deeply lonely and it forced me to wonder if I had a place in this world.

This feeling of lack persisted into my adulthood. It became so strong in my teen years that I heavily contemplated suicide and wondered if I were even worthy enough for life itself. I felt empty, drifting through life with no reason at all.

As college approached, I mulled over many different careers: writing, teaching and nursing among the many choices. There were many things that attracted me to nursing, but the sticking point was that I wanted to make a difference. I desperately just wanted to be worthy of life, worthy of existence and helping others seemed the only way to find that.

I received my degree and my license as a Registered Nurse and set out to help others, wishing desperately to help others. In this past decade I believe that I have helped many, although I had been naive about how many there would be that I would not be able to help. What I did not expect is how serving others would help myself. That my helping others would go far beyond giving me a feeling of worth-- it would make me whole.

Nursing gave me a way to make a living by helping others and has allowed me to live beyond existing only for myself and my family. It has given me many things: confidence, knowledge, connection, purpose. 

However, my patients themselves have given me ever so much more. Getting to know and care for my patients, even the challenging ones, has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. Nurses and other health care professionals see patients on their very worst of days and it is astonishing how quickly you bond with people and the stories they tell you. My patients have honored me with their honesty, with their shortcomings, with their vulnerability, with their pain. Making a space within myself to carry their stories inside me has made me a better person. My heart and the depth of my compassion has grown each and every year of my practice.  

I still feel lonely often. My heart often feels broken open at the injustices of this world. Everyday I wonder if my work has been enough to truly help my patients.

The knowledge that I do have, the knowing that pushes me through each day, is that I am not alone in my suffering, in my loneliness. This is a lonely world full of imperfect people like myself. Separately we are imperfect, with jagged edges and voids of space looking to be filled. Together we fit together as puzzle pieces, our jagged edges fitting perfectly with the broken edges of another.

My dear patients: In embracing your imperfections, I have embraced my own. In honoring your stories, I have honored my own. In loving you, I have found a way to love myself.

There is a parable from the bible that is oft quoted in healthcare- “Physician, heal thyself.” I say, with complete honesty and gratitude, that in healing you, I have healed myself.

And, for that I will be forever grateful.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

American Dreams

As a public health nurse I spend my days visiting low-income housing complexes to see my clients, many of whom are refugees or immigrants. At one of these apartment buildings, I struck up an unlikely friendship with a young Burmese woman who was a fairly recent refugee and spoke little English. She wasn’t a patient of mine but she often sat on the broken concrete front steps as her young daughter played nearby and we developed a budding, if awkward, friendship. Over a year or so we would have hesitant talks as we each stumbled and tried to understand each other with no common language. She was taking an English as a Second Language class(ESL) and delighted in the opportunity to try out her skills with me each week as I walked into the building to serve her neighbors.  As the year passed, her English became better soon she was telling me about her family and I was telling her about mine.

Her favorite topic to speak about was her  “American dream”. She told me that in the refugee camp, she and her family(the few that were still living) would sit around and pass the time by dreaming of which country they may get chosen to go to. The years passed slowly in the camp and they thought up many dreams. They imagined that if they were able to go to America, they would live in a home of their own with green grass in the front yard and a pool in the backyard.

Now, here she was in America, living in a dilapidated apartment crawling with cockroaches and rodents and surrounded by people who did not want to employ her or form a relationship with her because of her lack of English and unusual dress. Yet, she never seemed disheartened. She would often have a folded up picture carefully torn of a magazine that showed a house with a bright green yard or of a sparking blue pool. Her dreams were alive even amidst the bleakness of her current residence.

One morning as I arrived, she came running out of her apartment-calling Nurse! Nurse!(I introduced myself as Mandi, but still she insisted on calling me Nurse). She proudly came over to me and pulled out her tiny, outdated flip phone. She said that she was still saving for her own home but would soon go live with her sister until she could afford her own. Her chest puffed up proudly as she said that her sister and her husband had purchased their very own home. She was so incredibly proud that she her smile was ear-to-ear.

Her happiness was contagious and I couldn’t help but smile as she found the blurry, poor-quality photo inside her old phone. We both squinted at the screen and I saw a tiny blue home with a green yard. I told her what a lovely home it was.

She continued to grin as she told me, “Nurse,  you haven’t seen the best part yet!” She scrolled to the next picture and again we squinted at the screen. The photo showed a tiny plastic, purple pool in the small backyard. Inside the pool a young girl sat proudly in a blue bathing suit and surrounding her were the feet of many adults, dipping their hot feet into the cool pool.

At first, with my jaded American eyes that are used to opulence, I admit to being saddened at the meager sight of this miniscule, plastic pool-- the kind of pool that could be purchased at the local big box store for less that the pay of a single hour’s work. But my heart opened as I heard the sweet woman next to me exclaiming that her sister had her very own pool. I realized that what I was seeing was not a kiddie pool at all. It was the very manifestation of a simple and beautiful American dream.