Have you ever asked yourself “Do I work in the sickest, most unhealthy environment that anyone can work in OR do I actually work in the theater of the unsung hero in which the human will is constantly waiting to inspire me?”
In other words, as nurses we see the terrible effects of disease on the human body and the human spirit. And sometimes it’s easy to slip into focusing only on the negative. But if you do that, then you’re at risk of becoming bitter and resentful and missing out on a priceless opportunity to see the triumphant human will at its best.
There are always going to be those patients that have embraced their illness like it’s their best friend…the ones that know that their hospitalization is sort of like a free pass to getting as many narcotics and other drugs as possible. They are the patients who carefully calculate when their next dose of Benedryl and Dilaudid are due and then asked you to post it on the dry erase board in their room so they don’t forget when to call you.
Patient like these can make nurses skeptical and hardened. Remember, the nurse was taught in nursing school that the patient’s perception of pain is always right…but these types of patients just seem to cause her busy work through their selfish manipulation of her time. Slowly, if she doesn’t watch herself closely, the nurse can sink into the feeling that all she’s doing is catering to a population who represents the worst of human will.
Instead, the nurse must look around her environment and really take in all the victories on display. The nurse needs to recognize the glorious human spirit embodied in the other patients she takes care of who are truly in the hospital to heal or to make peace with their diagnosis and somehow make the best of it.
Let these patients be your teachers! They may come in the form of your 78-year-old patient with a new colostomy and a new terminal diagnosis of ovarian cancer. See how she gracefully pushes her IV pole through the hallway, smiling and making kind small talk with the staff. Notice it when she later requests a chair to be set up near the picturesque window down the hall so that she can do some free-hand painting. Watch as she sits there near the window in all her glory as she treasures the here and now.
Listen to her as she explains, “I told the doctor that I don’t want chemo. I’m 78-years-old. My quality of life is more important to me than trying to squeak out a couple more years with chemo. I know what I want. I want to travel a little more and do my painting. I love to paint and if I can do that I will be happy.”
Instead of wanting her perception to be dulled and drugged, she demands that her full faculties are present and available to her so that she can “catch the light just right” as reflected in her painting. One glance at her artwork and you’ll know she is your teacher and you are her student.
Although she’s only seven days post-op, she denies any pain and requests no pain medication whatsoever. She’s not there to use the system and ultimately lose part of her dignity…she’s there to recover and then go home where she can cherish each moment of the rest of her life with her dignity INTACT.
This is the human will at its best. This is the combination of courage and self-respect that we, as nurses, have the privilege of witnessing. We are the chosen spectators. We get to see the splendor of human will at its best as it embraces life and richly appreciates what time there is left.
As nurses, we have a choice of which patients we learn from. Will we learn from the patients who are teaching us about the dark side of the human will? Or will we learn from the patients who are teaching us about the victorious side of the human will?
Ask yourself which patients will I remember? And Why do I remember them…what did they teach me about the human will? How did they inspire me and what will I do with that inspiration in their honor…
Recognize that behind all the stress of bedside nursing is an opportunity to get a glimpse at human will as it triumphs over adversity with dignity intact. Take a moment to realize that you chose to be put there for a reason. You are an honored guest in the theater of the unsung hero.