Monday, July 14, 2014

Nurse, Whose Shoes Are You Wearing?

As nurses, we're often in the mode of "doing". We hang IVs, check vital signs, give treatments, dole out medications, and tend to multiple tasks, whether in the hospital, nursing home, school, patients' homes, or other venues. And when we're doing those tasks, we're generally wearing our metaphoric---and literal---nursing shoes.

In the midst of the tasks to which you need to tend, a patient may voice a complaint, concern, worry or anxiety. Depending on the general trajectory of your day, that patient's need can either draw you into empathic conversation, or, conversely, it can cause you stress, impatience, and exasperation. When you're busy and overwhelmed, a patient's emotional frailty may be the last thing you feel that you can handle. 

In those moments of impatience or stress, you're certainly wearing your nursing shoes (the literal ones and the metaphoric ones), and although those shoes may generally come laced with compassion (pun intended), is your store of compassion always open for business? Are you always able to be as present as you'd like to be?

A Choice to Make

For example, say you're working on a surgical floor and you have a patient who's being prepared for surgery. You have so many things to do and so much documentation to take care of. Between the IV alarm, the I & O sheet, the other call bells that won't stop ringing, and the constant feeling that you just can't keep up, your patient begins to tell you how frightened she is. She looks at you imploringly, and you have a choice to make: do you brush her off, ignore her pleading eyes and run down the hall to your next patient, or do you take a moment, breathe deeply, sit on the edge of the bed, and give her your attention?

This choice may seem like a no-brainer to most of you, but aren't there moments when it seems clear that there's no way you can do more? Do you feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand, feeling as if there's just no time to spare?

Wearing The Others' Shoes

When that needful patient is beseeching you for support, this is the golden moment when you look into your heart, take a deep breath, and metaphorically don that patient's shoes, sinking into her frightened reality.

That moment---when the nurse is able and willing to be fully present in empathetic presence---is the moment when the patient's shoes are on your feet, and you yourself feel the squeeze and discomfort of her pain and confusion.

The wearing of the other's shoes can be the moment where the seed of compassion in action is sown, and it's a seed worthy of watering, whether it be watered with your tears or the simple art of listening.

Walking the Path

While nursing is frequently a task-based path of action, it is also a path of deep and abiding compassion. When an opportunity arises to walk in a patient's shoes for even a moment, take that opportunity and fall into that place of deep listening and compassion.

Walk the human path of suffering and compassion with another, and revel in the warmth and connection that is generated in your heart of hearts.

Walking in another's shoes---if only for the briefest time---is one of many ways in which we can glimpse the suffering of that individual, actively connecting with the true spirit of what it means to be a nurse.

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