Genuine Care

by | Nov 9, 2015 | 5 Merciful

female-nurse-talking-to-woman-with-clipboardBlessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Recently, I met with a group of nursing students regarding the stress of their clinicals. They impressed me with their desire to maintain the compassion with which they started. Already compassion fatigue threatened their calling.
All resonated with a challenge some experienced: A patient died as they assisted skilled professionals trying to sustain or resuscitate. They respected the skill and heroic efforts of nurses and other providers in those situations who also praised the students for their work.
But the hardest challenge came when they moved with their supervising nurses to the next room where the patient did not know that a death just occurred on the other side of the wall. Their supervisors put on “nurse’s face,” a calm, workmanlike expression. The students understood the need for nurse’s face: Walking into the next room in tears could trigger a contagion of distress. A relaxed, upbeat demeanor helps healing.
Yet they asked, What if I become an unfeeling robot? The supervisors showed no trace of anguish that a human being just died. Nobody set aside time to talk about it, shed a tear, or just pray together.  Nobody honored the sacredness of the event and the human life now past. They just went back to work. They coped by working.
As I embarked on my career as a therapist at their age, Carl Rogers articulated the qualities of an effective listener in language that I still find powerful despite their clinical tone: The effective listener offers empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard.
The middle term, genuineness, seems under siege for the student nurses. Similarly, hearing traumatic stories and suffering my own pain can make the transition to the next therapy patient difficult. How shall I offer that crucial ingredient of the best medicine: myself as I am?
I must not identify with the pleasant mask as if it were my face. I must not cope by working, proudly deeming myself above the needs to which I minister every day. If I take care of my body with exercise and rest, if I take care of my soul with prayer and love, if I allow myself to receive every blessing as a little child, the warm face and nonanxious presence that others need will come through from my heart.
But to retain the first love of my work, compassion, I do two things: I remember that in every encounter with suffering people, no matter how difficult their challenges, I encounter Christ. Every painful and even shameful disclosure administers a sacrament, and I receive the Body of Christ.
And the best God gives through me comes through my own brokenness. Out of my foolishness comes the best wisdom I give, and out of my weakness comes the most amazing strength. When I couch insights and possible solutions in my own vulnerability, fellow sufferers meet, and in time the light of hope and resolve for life emerges in the patient. When I am my true self, there is no longer me but God at work, and I keep the precious, broken heart with which I started.

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