In nursing theory class, we learn about Lydia E. Hall and her Core, Care, and Cure Model. She theorizes mostly about the nurse-patient relationship and how being an excellent nurse means, at least in part, helping your patient become the best version of him/herself. Her theory is influenced a lot by psychiatry and psychology, so she also talks a lot about identifying and understanding feelings, reaching the patient’s maximal potential through the learning process, and the use of psychotherapy to change bad habits.
It all feels very mushy-gushy/touchy-feely, like you’re supposed to wear waterproof mascara as you read her theory because this is nursing, and nursing means helping people and oh-em-gee, how can you help people if they don’t know how to communicate their feelings and express the need for help? What if their need for help reaches far beyond the surface, to deep trauma, or socioeconomic factors, or their parents’ bitter divorce?* What if you realize that their lives would be dramatically better if they grew a pair of balls and finally stood up to their abusive spouse? Or if they kicked their smoking habit and, in so doing, realized that it was only a way to keep themselves down in the first place?
Where’s the Kleenex, dammit?
So, yeah. Hall talks about all that mushy-gushy/touchy-feely stuff and somewhere in there is the term out-of-awareness-experience, which basically describes someone who is feeling something they’ve never felt before. They can’t describe the feeling, they don’t know what it means, and they don’t know what to do with it. It could be extreme anger, or a mounting restlessness, or severe depression, or some other emotion that the person’s never felt before. Maybe the patient has just learned they have stage 4 lymphoma. Or maybe the patient’s just found out that their only child was gang-raped. Or maybe they only now became aware that their parents’ 30-year marriage is dissolving and the only world they’ve ever known – however dysfunctional and unhealthy – is crashing to the ground.*
The point is, as a nurse, you deal with this kind of thing all the time. You see people at their worst, when their hair is falling out from stress and their catheter is obstructing the view you have of the tribal tattoo they got when they were 15. You get to know them intimately. Because the day you two meet could very well be the best or worst day of your patient’s life. Because hospital visits have a way of highlighting what’s already going wrong. Because waiting rooms afford patients the time and white noise necessary to think about issues they’d otherwise push away.
When you’re a nurse, you keep in mind all of this, but also this most important fact: the patient, aka the person in crisis, is a stranger. And that makes sympathizing a little more of a challenge.
As a nursing student, I’m aware of all of this. Yet I can’t help but wonder: What happens when I have a crisis, don’t know how to act, and generally can’t catch a break? What kind of sympathy should I expect? What kind of understanding would I deserve – especially from the people who are teaching me to be so damn understanding in the first place?
Two days before our nanny left, two big things happened:
1. I got really fucking sick.
2. I landed a sick writing gig – and that’s the positive kind of sick.
The former meant that I didn’t want to do anything but stay in bed and sleep all day. The latter meant that I didn’t have that luxury.
Since then, I’ve been making as many deadlines as possible, all the while reeling from my parents’ separation and Rob’s imminent departure, doing my best as a mom to a sniffling 13-month old whose teething is currently making our place into Baby Whine-house; and skipping out on class because, um, hello? Did you read the other stuff? My 94 average can take a hit, thankyouverymuch.
And yet, I have to admit: as practical as I’m being, and as much as I don’t regret putting my family first, I hate the fact that my 94 average has to take a hit. I hate that I’m not a robot who can undergo an emotional tornado without negative repercussions. I hate that I can’t compartmentalize; that I can’t stop myself from working on job stuff or writing fiction – even when I’m in chemistry class.
Two weeks ago, I could go all Howard Hughes without a hitch. It was easy for me to divide my time, energy, and attention to a given responsibility at a specific time. Now? I. Just. Can’t. Do. It.
I’m thinking it has something to do with my parents’ separation; and with my anxiety about Rob going back to New York, making money, and earning a bachelor’s degree at an advanced curriculum school. The money he’ll make serves three very important purposes: 1. Savings for our future. 2. Spending cash for daily expenses. 3. Monetary assistance for my mom.
That’s a tall order, and I worry about the pressure I’m putting on Rob, and the strain our long-distance relationship will take on us. I worry that I’ll get caught up in a whirlwind of progress, and that Rob will lose sight of his goals, and that we’ll lose our way as a couple. I worry that all of my fears will rear their ugly heads, and Rob won’t be here to help me ward them off. I worry that we won’t meet any of our lofty aspirations, and that my mom will have to live in the projects, and that my time in the Philippines will be unduly interrupted because I’ll have to go back to the States and take care of my parents and, in so doing, put all of my dreams on the back burner for an indefinite amount of time.
I’m worried. Anxious. Panic-ridden. Scared shitless. For the first time in my life, I don’t have freedom. That is, I have something to lose. I have something outside of myself that I want, I need, and I love. I have my own family. I have goals that are too good to be true and yet seem attainable. I have great gigs that are paying bills. And all of this crap about my parents’ separation is fucking with me. Big time.
So, no, I can’t concentrate. I can’t relax. I can’t stay still or keep my mind on a leash.
And my grades are suffering.
And I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about that because I’ve never had a life that’s so fulfilled, and I’ve never been so close to personal failure.
So what did I do? I went the after-school special route and spoke to my teachers. I shared as much of my story as I was comfortable with. I purged my conscience, my heart, and my head.
Keep in mind: I’m a New Yorker. We’re used to being absolved of our sins by confessing to a therapist. I thought my uber-Catholic teachers would draw parallels to the church and be impressed with my openness.
So imagine my surprise when, instead of a touching speech about perseverance – or the power of Love or dogged determination, or even God (because everyone I meet is deeply devout) – I was met with indifference.
Worse that indifference: I was met with judgment.
Teachers looked down their noses at me, eyed me with suspicion, and drew a line in the sand between Me and Them.
But of course.
I can’t be going through any drama.
I’m just a rich girl singing a sad song.
I’m a privileged American.
I’ve had it infinitely easier than everyone I encounter.
I’m not entitled to generosity or sympathy.
I have way too much going on for me as it is.
Or something like that, I guess.
It doesn’t matter.
Like Hall’s idea of a good nurse, I have to take into account the likelihood that, like me, my teachers are going through a learning experience. They could very well be figuring out how best to act. I mean, it’s not like any of us received an owner’s manual or a set of infallible instructions at birth. The scenario is entirely plausible.
If this is the case, what else is there to do but forgive others’ errors and go on doing your best, whatever comes?
I’m thinking it’s that kind of life philosophy that makes an excellent nurse – and, hopefully, a halfway decent human being.