National Nurse’s Week 2014…
To be a nurse! Where does the impulse to spend one’s life around people who are sick and vulnerable come from? Many will say it’s a sad way to live. To those of us who are nurses, this way of life is as natural as waves in the ocean and crackling logs on a fire. Being near the frail ones brings similar feelings of warmth and delight!
So says Sr. Karen Helfenstein, SC in a talk originally given to healthcare workers who care for our aged and infirm Sisters at the Convent of Mary the Queen and currently on the website of the Sisters o Charity of New York.
What draws us? Have you ever had someone, barely able to lift an arm, reach up and hug you as you fluffed the pillow? Have you ever cried with the mother of a young cancer patient whose strength is ebbing away despite the ability to pay for the best care in the world? Have you ever heard the parent of a young man with Schizophrenia tell about the illness that has robbed a brilliant child of any future except mental hospital admissions?
I have. Those experiences energize me as I face each day wondering what awaits me. Nurses hear secrets. Illness makes perfect strangers confide their fears in nurses. One day, as a student nurse, I took care of two children dying of leukemia. At the end of the day the head nurse said to me, “Those who take care of patients last are the first ones they remember when they meet God.” That thought has helped me when caring for those we cannot cure. It makes me remember that we all came from God and we are all on our way home to God. Today I’m the nurse, tomorrow I may be the patient, and how will I want to be treated? I want to have someone ask how I am when they have the time to listen to my answer; to get to the toilet or have help with a bedpan right away; to be free of pain; to know what’s happening and who else knows; to have visits of friends; to laugh and cry and remember; to pray together with my friends and family.
My inspiration to be a nurse was a person who tenderly cared for infants and young children. She never seemed nervous about bloody noses or broken bones. One day I learned that she had always wanted to be a nurse but the events of her life made it impossible—her father died when she was eighteen. Later in life this woman took care of her husband with diabetes and leukemia for ten years. After he died, she cared for her mother who lived to be 100 years old. Always, this woman could dry the tears of the confused adolescent, stand by her beloved as he grew weaker and died young, and calm the fears of a frightened old woman. There seemed to be a well of wisdom, peace, and joy in this woman. I am blessed to be her daughter.
In St. Vincent’s Hospital nursing school I saw the lived example of Sisters of Charity nurses. At the same time the Gospel’s healing parables of Jesus began to speak to me very personally. Imagine how Jesus felt toward the woman with a hemorrhage, the man born blind, and the lepers. I love each story of the relationship He had with the one healed. How thrilling for the deaf man to hear! And I believe Jesus smiled, amazed at what He was able to do, in His Father’s name. The Gospel of John [chapters 15-17] reveals a very precious conversation that Jesus has with our Father. Jesus talks about the world and His troubles with the world. He tells of how He has revealed God’s Love to us and tells God that we have that same Love. He pleads that we may remain in Him, just as He remained in the Father while He walked our earth.
Jesus knows we need an Advocate and promises us the Spirit. Jesus tells us, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because He goes to our Father.” So with this faith we do what we do, in Jesus’ name in honor of our God. We celebrate with joy today, God’s great gift of nurses and as nurses we give thanks for our share in the healing work that is ours! God bless us, every one!
Sister Karen Helfenstein