My sister, Angela, recently spent 15 days in hospital. Needless to say, my family met many nurses over those weeks. In this time I've wondered about the distinction between duty and service. What is it that makes one nurse seem more compassionate and attuned to the patient's every need than another nurse? It seems more than science; it is an art form born in the heart.
From a training and educational standpoint, nurses are highly qualified to assess bodily system functions and use complex technology to monitor their patients. They monitor vital signs, check and replace IV lines, administer injections, make painstaking reports, and perform an overwhelming assortment of often unpleasant tasks not included in their job description. It is nurses who keep our hearts beating.
The Oxford dictionary says that "nurse" has its origins in the late Latin nutricia, feminine for nutricius meaning "person that nourishes". Both the noun (someone who cares for the infirm) and the verb (to breastfeed) share similar connotations of providing for and nurturing another. To nurture and to nurse seem different, and perhaps this is where the divide begins. Is this where compassion starts to thrive and express itself, where duty evolves into service?
My sister will tell me that she dreaded the nurses who spoke loudly and prodded and poked her inert body like it was just another item in the room to be serviced, no more important than a malfunctioning IV drip. Yet my sister responded body and heart to the nurse who called her name softly, and asked before she commenced her care and the monitoring of her vital signs. This kind of nurse knew how much Angela wanted to heal and followed up on every change in her recovery to advocate progressive treatment. It was this gentle, compassionate, and loving care that made all the difference.
A good friend passed along the following quote:
From the traditional to the alternative, healers and healing powers can take many forms. But the power to transmit healing energy isn't limited to those who work in hospitals or have mastered the ancient Chinese art of acupuncture. We each have the power to transmit healing energy to others and ourselves, regardless of our profession. Healing energy is the energy of love. (Emphasis added)
My mother spent every night in the hospital; she would come home in the afternoons only to catch up on sleep before returning to care for my sister. When asked about the "healing energy of love," my mother said, "If hundreds of people could love, and think of, and pray for, and care about Angela's well-being, there's no way that I couldn't believe in that. People don't realize how subtle and how powerful that force is. The instinctive human need to send love and goodwill, the strength of other peoples' belief and support; that is a miracle."
As Christians, we are called to love one another, to be brothers and sisters in Christ. This kind, compassionate, unselfish agape felt through the prayers and actions of family and friends—our brothers and sisters—is indeed a miracle.
Like the nurse who believed and rejoiced in every stage of Angela's recovery while in hospital, we all have the ability to uplift and support healing in others. Like all nurses who surpass duty and service, we too can nurture and love others to better health.