Inspiration, Nursing
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You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments or publicity.
— O.A. Battista


The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition, and not our circumstances.
– Martha Washington


How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
— George Washington Carver


The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
— Elizabeth Kubler Ross


Do you know of Elizabeth Kubler Ross?  I learned of her in nursing school.  A remarkable woman.  Firstly, she became a doctor (Psychiatrist) in the 1950’s which was an accomplishment in itself for a woman.  (Interesting fact: In recent years, nationwide, more women than men have applied to medical schools, according to statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges.)   Her greatest contribution has been her work on death and dying patients and her development of the stages of grief.  She wrote a book “On Death and Dying” and encouraged the movement of hospice work  which was basically unheard of in her time because she was appalled by the neglect of care for the dying patient.   That book, her firstof 15 , is still considered to be the “master text” on the subject.  I’ve read a lot of quotes that she has written and it just seems to me that she had such great insight.  She said:

In Switzerland I was educated in line with the basic premise: work work work. You are only a valuable human being if you work. This is utterly wrong. Half working, half dancing – that is the right mixture. I myself have danced and played too little.”

and, “It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.

and, “As far as service goes, it can take the form of a million things. To do service, you don’t have to be a doctor working in the slums for free, or become a social worker. Your position in life and what you do doesn’t matter as much as how you do what you do.”

She taught at the University of Chicago Medical School.  She died in Scottsdale, Arizona at age 78 in 2004.  She is in the National Women’s Hall of Fame and has won 20 honorary degrees. 

She became interested in death and dying (and what people go through in that process spiritually, emotionally and psychologically) when she was a young girl after visiting a concentration camp.  She saw pictures of butterflies that children (who lost their whole families to the gas chamber and were going to die themselves) drew on the walls and that intrigued her. 

In 1994 she was trying to start a home for babies with AIDS.  She built it on her own land in Virginia  She had bullets shot through her window at home, was called the “AIDS Lady” and “Satan” by born-again Christians in her town.  They said they would not call an ambulance if she were dying because they were afraid of AIDS being brought into their town.  That same year her home and all of her possessions were burned to the ground in an arson fire that is suspected to have been set by opponents of her AIDS work.

Even though she brought more humane, elevated care for the dying patient, she still has opponents who say that her research hasn’t been scientifically based and dismiss her as a pseudo-scientist because she often talked about spirituality.  In the YouTube video below she said that children who are dying (or some that have just gone through a lot like the death of family or other tragedies) develop a compensatory spiritual quadrant while their physical quadrant deteriorates.  She has met 5 year olds that are like an old wise soul who speak like spiritual teachers. 

Remember Ryan White?  His story came about way before I went to nursing school but I remember thinking he was an old wise soul.  He was the 18 year old who died of AIDS and had become a spokesperson for AIDS when it’s trasmission was poorly understood.  He was expelled from school ,if you recall.  He was among the nearly 90% of hemophiliacs treated with blood-clotting factors between 1979 and 1984 who developed AIDS.  When he was granted permission to attend school he was very isolated, had to eat with plastic utensils and use a separate bathroom.  He had numerous threats on his life and a bullet was fired through his living room.  His family ended up moving (basically being driven out of their town).  He died just a few weeks before his high school graduation.  His grave was even vandalized.  What I remember is that despite everything he was going through he had a really great attitude and personality.  Because he spoke out we now have the Ryan White Care Act which finanically supports people living with AIDS who are low income, uninsured or underinsured so they can get treatment. I was (am) so impressed.  I thought he had been given some sort of “gift” despite his illness.  Maybe a gift of tolerance or patience or peace within himself despite it all.  He was also very optimistic. 

Since I’ve been a nurse I’ve had experiences with dying patients that have been so oddly rewarding.  It’s like that patient gave something to me instead of the other way around.  I have had patients who defied death also who have come to have an amazing appreciation for life.  One patient I recall was a middle aged gentleman who came to the ER with back pain.  He ended up having an aortic aneurysm which ruptured right there in the ER. Luckily, one of the top thoracic surgeons was there at that moment, recognized it and rushed him to the OR.  The surgeon told me that he was running down the hall with the patient on a gurney yelling for them to get suite so and so ready for surgery and everyone behind him was saying they can’t possibly save his life.  The surgeon said “the hell we can’t” and proceeded to operate and repair the aorta.  The doc told me it was like a blood bath and the pt.was losing blood as fast as they could give it.  He had something like 20 liters of blood transfused (the body holds about 5).  I swear to you, the entire time I took care of that patient he was smiling despite the pain of major surgery and all that he went through.  I wish we could all have that appreciation for life without having to go through that experience.  (By the way, if that aneurysm had been any bigger the surgeon’s efforts would have been futile no matter what skill he had).

I do believe that something very positive can come out of one’s suffering but it isn’t always automatically so.  I think one has to be “open” to it.  Besides patients who die at peace with that certain “wisdom” I have seen some patients die in a very sad, unpeaceful way.  I’ve seen people with second chances at life who didn’t appreciate it also.  I wonder what makes certain people open to changing or receiving that “gift.”

I know a lot of nurses who view nursing as just a job.  It makes it a lot easier to be a nurse when you look at it from a mere medical standpoint or a series of tasks to be completed but I don’t think you get as much out of it.  For me, nursing is HARD.  It drains me physically and mentally.  It is a challenge for me to stick with nursing.   I am thinking that this is MY challenge though.  Being a nurse is something I need to do to learn my personal lessons in life.  Having back pain and some other problems help me to be empathetic.  Would I rather be pain-free for the rest of my life and my job easy but not rewarding or fulfilling in any way?  Some days I would say “Yes!” but really, deep down inside, the answer is no. 

Do you know what your personal challenges are?  What are you getting out of them? 



sources:  short interview

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