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By Diana Marshall

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Presented at the School of Christian Studies Annual Conference September 2005

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Drowning or Swimming:
Reflections of a Christian Nurse

I am able to 'Think God at Work' because I know him, and am known by him. I have known him for as long as I can remember, mainly due to the blessings of a Christian mother and grandmother who prayed for me. The first song I learned was 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so'. This was followed by a decision to accept him as Lord and Saviour when I was 14. I felt called to nursing to be like Christ and was influenced by Mt. 25:36 "I was sick and you took care of me.

Before my plans to begin nursing training I was concerned with the dilemma of working at weekends, as opposed to keeping the Sabbath holy, but was reassured by Jesus example of healing on the Sabbath.

I depended very much on Jesus presence with me during my training. It was tiring, arduous and constant. He walked the wards with me during night duty rounds, alleviating loneliness and fear. Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path", comforted me. I thought about Florence Nightingale, the 'Lady with the Lamp', another Christian nurse. As a child she believed she belonged to God and "She never lost this consciousness of God's abiding presence, and many where the times she could rely on it" (Miller, 1975, p.20).

Psalm 23 has always been a comforting reminder of God's presence with me. Often I feel he leads me beside quiet waters, a patient recovering from surgery, a new mother and child, or a terminally ill patient, pain free and settled. I meditate on this picture and feel supported, floating in God's peace. Water is essential to life.

At other times the water is rough and choppy and I feel as if I am drowning. The following passage relates to an event that occurred only a few weeks ago.

I was visiting a local nursing home, in my role as workplace assessor, and was walking down the corridor, looking for the registered nurse (RN) in charge to introduce myself and to locate the nurses I had come to assess. As I passed one room the door was wide open and two assistants in nursing (AINs) were attending to a frightened looking elderly gentleman. They were pulling him out of bed and onto a chair. "Don't start' they yelled at him threateningly, 'don't start or you'll get a cold shower'. They looked up, startled and guilty, when they realised I was observing them and one of them quickly closed the door.

I did not know the resident or the staff and had no position of authority over those nurses. I felt angry, ashamed and powerless, not sure what was my best course of action.

Further up the corridor I found the RN, someone I had worked with previously, who told me the nurses I wanted were upstairs. The two nurses I was evaluating worked well, despite their nervousness at being observed while they cared for the residents. I was reassured by their practice. One demonstrated excellent rapport and a relaxed and friendly attitude.

The RN from downstairs came up, looking for someone. I took her to one side and mentioned the incident. She glared at me and said 'Do you know the man?' I shook my head. 'Well you have to speak like that. Get in first. It doesn't matter. He can take it. He can take a joke'. I kept quiet. I was speechless. She turned and went downstairs.

My thoughts were in turmoil. I am passionate about nursing, especially aged care. Giving good care is so rewarding. It is often challenging but so satisfying. I was saddened by a culture that accepted abuse as normal.

As I reflected on the incidents I wondered about the values expressed. Do the attitudes come from the bottom up, or do those in higher positions establish them. The behaviour of the RN indicated the latter. I was not comfortable with what I had witnessed by the nurses, and even less with the attitude of the RN. We had worked at the same facility in the past and I had found her casual and offhand.

I was disappointed that we could not communicate as equals. The unspoken message was 'Mind your own business'. I reflected on boundaries and professionalism. My role was as observer and I had to remain content with that. My hope was that she and her nurses would also reflect on the incident and handle similar situations differently in the future. It increased my desire to teach not only skills but also discuss feelings and attitudes.

How did these people feel, the resident, the nurses, the RN? How did I feel?  I felt the pain of the frail old gentleman as rough hands pulled him about and harsh, unfriendly voices abused and threatened him. I was aware of the nurses' feelings of lack of time and frustration, their impoverished emotions unable to cope with the added burden. It was harder to understand the RN's lack of sympathy and professionalism. I was affronted by her sharp retort and lack of insight in caring for staff and residents. Perhaps she too was weary and burnt out.

Where was God in these exchanges?

Jesus experienced the pain and suffering, and the helplessness of the elderly gentleman. He knew what it felt like to be taken to a place he didn't want to go to, to be roughly handled and abused by those who were charged with keeping the peace. "Like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" (Isa. 53:7).

Jesus also felt anger and frustration. He was one of the Jews, God's chosen people who had the stories and wisdom of the ages. However the Jews turned away from God's truth. They did not recognise the Messiah when he came. Jesus wept over these stubborn and hard hearted people. They turned their backs on him and rejected him, but he still loved them, just as he loved the nurses despite their faults.

Did Jesus exhibit any characteristics of the RN? He too had felt weary and exhausted, wanting to escape from the throngs who pursued him. He would rise early and go to the mountains to spend time with his father. He returned comforted and refreshed. Perhaps the RN needed to feel comfort and be renewed with a fresh vision of care and compassion for her residents and staff.

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