This I Believe
By Judy Black
I began my professional nursing career at age twenty-two wearing a starched white uniform, nurses cap, and the nurse’s pin that my mother had so proudly pinned on me at my graduation in 1980. Feeling like Florence Nightengale most of the young women in my graduation class felt certain that we had the skills and knowledge to bring comfort and healing to our patients. It did not take long for me to feel overwhelmed with human suffering, the emotional pain of many of my patients, and the death of many of the people I cared for on the oncology unit in the hospital where I worked.
My response to this was to construct an invisible wall between my patients and me. There were sick people and there were the rest of us. I was outwardly kind, performed my duties with skill, and kept myself safe from their suffering.
Fifteen years later I found myself on the receiving end of health care professionals. Three months after my sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I too was diagnosed with the same disease. I remember the feeling of separateness from well people, feeling different, not fully human. But in actuality this experience made me more human for it opened my eyes to the power of simple kindness and empathy. I remember the sting I felt when a hospital nurse referred to me as “the ovarian cancer in room 426.” I also remember when a hospital volunteer offered to message my hands during one of my chemotherapy treatments. Her kind humble act of touching my hands so tenderly infused me with something intangible, something I can not explain. There was acceptance on her face.
The experiences of suffering, loss, and the kindness shown to me that day make me a better person, a more humble and empathetic person. For many years thereafter, I used that lesson daily in my work as a Hospice nurse, making home visits, providing care for my patients and their families. More recently I have ventured down a new path of portrait photography. Even though my new vocation is very different from nursing, the lesson of humble kindness toward others continues. Those lessons help to make every encounter mean something. Every smile is a gift given and a gift gratefully received.
I believe in the healing power of kindness.
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