I have an extraordinary amount of nurses in my life. Seriously, so many. There is more free medical advice at hand than I could ever possibly use, and thank God for it…more than once I’ve been rescued from my own clumsiness, stupidity, or stubbornness by one of the seemingly four million nurses to whom I am connected.
My dad is a nurse. So is my sister. My kids’ adopted aunt (one of our closest friends) is a nurse, so are both of her girls. There were multiple nurses with whom I was friends and worked with at the church in St Louis where I served as a youth pastor. Routinely, one of my nurse friends there would march into the youth room with her sphygmomanometer and command me to roll up my sleeve so she could keep tabs on my blood pressure and then sternly tell me to stop eating so much salt.
I’m still surrounded by a truckload of nurses, and after all this experience, I’ve a few observations to offer the nursing community and those of us who engage them.
Nurses experience humanity at its most human.
To be human is to be fragile, corporeal, broken, mortal. Death is never as far away as we act; a key point of human self-deception. Futhermore, the limits, finiteness and frailty of our humanity finds us in myriad physical and bodily ways. And that’s where nurses live.
We poop because we’re human. Nurses wade in poop.
We pee because we’re human. Nurses swim in pee.
We bleed because we’re human. Nurses bathe in blood.
We puke because we’re human. Nurses frolic in puke.
Nurses shave a guy’s testicles before surgery. Nurses hold down a toddler while his blood is being drawn. Nurses wipe the crap out of adult buttcracks. Nurses test and dispose of urine. Nurses change pus-filled bandages. Nurses wipe off bloody limbs. Nurses thread tiny catheters up penises and female urethra. Nurses clean up birthing fluid and afterbirth. Nurses put cream on hemorrhoids. Nurses bathe every kind of person you can imagine.
And that’s just some of the physical stuff. Emotionally…
Nurses keep company teenagers whose parents have to work while they’re in the hospital. Nurses explain complicated discharge orders to knuckleheads. Nurses care for people who are lonely and afraid. Nurses aren’t embarassed when they have to wipe your crack, shave your balls or stick a catheter up your dong. Nurses comfort patients and families who just received horrible news from the doctor. Nurses put up with doctors and make them look like geniuses. Nurses patiently deal with psych patients who are literally sick in the head. Nurses celebrate a home-going with the family. Nurse take worried phone calls about quirky pacemakers. Nurses know how to make shots hurt less. Nurses work their fool-heads-off caring for six patients when they should only have to care for four. Nurses enjoy the euphoria of the words “you’re healed”. Nurses stay an hour-and-a-half after their shift ends to complete patient paperwork and make sure everything is just right.
From the doctor’s office to the operating room to the ER to the army field hospital and beyond, nurses experience humans at some of their lowest and highest points of frail and fragile experience. Nurses carry a big weight, the highs of victory and new birth, and the lows of loneliness and death. It is taxing. Most nurses love their job — often seeing it as a calling — and most nurses are very, very tired with a storehouse of pent-up emotion and unprocessed anxiety.
Nurses feel forced to secure their own value.
Nursing is one of the few absolutely necessary human vocations. Without someone doing the work of nursing, humanity would eradicate itself. We could make it without doctors, but not without nurses. Doctors treat; nurses heal. (Mechanics are another absolutely necessary human vocation. In today’s current world — without mechanics — we’d be lost.)
Jobs are jobs, and we treat them as such. Some jobs though, are more than jobs due to the emotional or spiritual weight that comes with them. A lot of people can do what they do for a living and not need a large amount of processing due to the emotional weight of their vocation. Some vocations though, due to the emotional strain of their nature, need deep processing in order to keep doing their job well. Elementary school teachers, trauma counselors, deployed service members (and their families at home), stay-at-home moms, holistic therapists, foreign missionaries…these are examples of some of the vocations that require this type of deep processing. Nursing requires this type of processing. If a nurse is afforded a space to process his/her experiences, they feel valued. If not, they feel unvalued. The rest of the general population is the source of this lack of value because we expect nurses to treat their nursing like most other people feel about their job…that it’s a job. But nursing is not just a job and trust me, when you’re in the doctor office or emergency room, or your kid is in the hospital, or your grandmother is on hospice, you too live like nursing is way more than just a job.
When a nurse feels unvalued (I’m going to switch to the feminine here, because 92% of nurses are women), she feels the need to secure her own value. You can spot an unvalued nurse a mile away, mainly because pretty much every conversation you have with her will go back to her experience as a nurse. Her core identity is almost linked to it. An unvalued nurse will jump on every medical conversation opportunity she is presented with, adding an unsolicited comment about the sickness you feel, the medicine you’re on, the doctor you just visited, the hospital your mother is in, the treatment your kid is undergoing, community health standards, the hospital policies, birth control preferences, the school’s cleanliness rules…it can get pretty annoying sometimes, especially when you just want to get to know the nurse as a person and she keeps talking about who she is and what she’s done or knows as a nurse. A nurse who feels the need to secure her own value is like an orphan trying to prove to her adopted parents that she matters to the family because of what she knows and has done for them.
If you’re a nurse and you’re reading this, I’m really sorry that we overlook the depth of your calling. We are all helped by the thankless ways in which you serve your fellow humans.
Nursing engages and reflects God’s heart.
The spiritual root of good nursing is compassion. A redeemed nurse with a redemptive perspective of who he/she is can be an agent of healing — body, mind and spirit. A carnal nurse can make a patient’s condition much worse than it needs to be. A nurse with a redemptive perspective of who she is and who chooses to spiritually root her identity in her sonship in Christ instead of her vocational nursing can experience the joy of a vocation that is way more than a vocation; it is a calling.
My dad is a great nurse, and anyone he has ever served or who has ever worked with him will attest to that fact. He has served in patient care as an orderly, LPN, RN, Nursing Supervisor, and Hospital Administrator. What makes Dad so good at what he does (currently, he works for Gift of Life, a non-profit organ donation company, approaching families whose loved one has just died asking them to consider organ donation) is that he receives who he is in Christ first, and then nurses from that position. Dad is spiritually aware that as a son of God, he is spiritually gifted as a Mercy; that identity and gifting steers his engagement with others. When he lovingly cares for a patient or steps into grief with a family, his walk with Jesus and instinctive gifting by God is his paradigm for nursing. Therefore, God is valuing his deep and hard work. Dad still enjoys human affirmation — as we all do — but he is not desperate or needy for it. He knows who really sees and values him and people actually feel more at ease in asking him for help because of his confidence as a nurse who is valued not by others, but by God.
You don’t need to have a Mercy gifting to be a good nurse. But you do need to receive your identity and value from God, rooted in your sonship in Christ, fulfilled by the truth that He called and named you and always sees, knows and feels you. He is the common place for our collective humanity. Humans being fully human for His glory.