Dance With Me: 2020 WHO Year of the Nurse and the Midwife
Guest Post by Melody
Melody’s thirty-plus year nursing practice includes clinical management, epidemiology, cardiology, nephrology, oncology, and behavioral medicine. She currently works part time at Huntsman Cancer Hospital and University of Utah Hospital as a Registered Nurse, certified in case management (RN, CCM). She also writes. Her first full-length poetry manuscript, An Imperfect Roundness, was published this year by BCC Press.
Nursing can be its own ministry. The LDS perspective of humanity as an actual “family” makes this idea even more beautiful. We can attend to our sisters and brothers with hope for their wellness, faith in science, and with genuine love for each person. Once scientific practice and clinical procedures are mastered, the human connection can bring remarkable depth and richness to the healing process and patient-caregiver relationship— a relationship unique in the world. As a patient, I’ve felt this with certain nurses who’ve cared for me. As a nurse, I’ve seen it too.
By its nature the relationship between patient and nurse is both personal and professional, intimate and respectful. Vulnerability brought on by illness or injury can sometimes make a patient a reluctant partner, but I see the patient-caregiver relationship as a sort of dance with our own and another’s humanity, moving around the dance floor of a health crisis, accompanied by the orchestra of medical science. We move toward and away from each other as we establish rapport and build trust in the relationship, then give and receive care. Sometimes this happens within a single encounter at a vaccine clinic or emergency room. Sometimes it spans years in a dialysis center or a home health setting. Sometimes we are left unchanged by the relationship. Other times that unique dance becomes transformative.
I remember a woman many years ago for whom I cared only when her regular home health nurse was on vacation. Part of the routine each morning at 6:00 AM involved reading to the patient from whatever text she happened to be enjoying at the time. She was bright, gracious, and occasionally demanding. I’ll call her Mary (not her real name) and she was legally blind. She never learned Braille and preferred live readings to books on tape. Her loss of vision was a result of diabetes. The home health agency I worked for provided nursing service for twice-daily insulin injections. These visits should have lasted only fifteen minutes, but Mary’s nurse always spent an additional fifteen or twenty minutes of her own time reading aloud. I was happy to do the same. We bonded over appreciation of literature and other things in those early morning readings. Mary has long since passed on, but I still think of her sometimes.
She was in her eighties and lived alone. Although she had a supportive son who helped with shopping and other tasks, he was also aging and she was obviously lonely.
One morning she asked me to read from a biography of an early-twentieth-century Mormon prophet. I don’t recall which one. The subject of death was being addressed in the text and I commented about how amazing the human body is and how people fight to live.
Mary directed me to an earlier section of the book. She had been deeply moved and wanted to share it with me. The idea was this: Our eternal spirits are entirely unfamiliar with the concept of death. Before this life we had always lived and would continue living afterwards. We came to earth, in part, to understand death: the antithesis of the immortal state. Therefore, even in our relentlessly deteriorating mortal incarnation, we try to live and live and live. It’s all we know. Our souls genuinely don’t know “how to die” nor do we desire to die. Ever.
Of course emotional distress and mental health crises can impact our perceptions and our feelings about life and death, making us feel we don’t care to live. But, the proverbial human “will to live” had never been more clearly or cogently communicated to me than on that morning. I finished the visit and spent a few minutes weeping in the car. This moment of insight has stayed with me throughout my career. It changed the way I respond to patients who appear to want to keep living beyond what I or other healthcare professionals would encourage or anticipate.
I’ve been blessed and transformed in numerous ways through witnessing and providing care in times of crisis or while providing routine care. I believe my presence has benefited patients I’ve cared for as well. If you’ve felt especially blessed by a particular care provider it would be wonderful to tell them so. Especially now, during a global pandemic, when many healthcare professionals are burdened beyond their usual giving, caring capacities.
We are all glorious, miraculous, tragic beings, we humans. I’m glad we can dance through life together.
I’d like to share two poems that arose from my life as a nurse— one composed early in my career when I realized what being a nurse meant for me. The other was written more recently.
- to heal
- to touch; make a word into light,
breathe it through flesh—
into the future where all
shall be well.
- to love.
Music and Silence
Today I caught a glimpse of
invisible strings strung between lovers,
stretched tight, tuned to each other
through moments, years of living.
I heard sympathetic vibrations in
an old woman’s fingers woven
between her husband’s when he died.
This is why we fear Love: