Three of us were walking home the other night - my friend from Sweden, my friend from Pakistan and me. Why I identify us by our countries will soon become clear. Earlier in the day my friend from Sweden and I had been talking about chaplaincy work and we discovered we both have an interest in prison ministry, but agreed we could not handle hospital chaplaincy. We both find ourselves overcome with nausea and that recoiling, inner tingling feeling at the sight or story of injury, surgery, treatment, or blood. If you get this way, you know what I mean. My friend couldn’t even describe the experience, all he did was cross his arms over his chest as if pulling himself away, tighten his shoulders, wear an expression of discomfort and slight sickness on his face and I knew exactly the sensation he was referring to. I mean, your whole body becomes weak, you get very hot and then very cold and feel a need to escape somehow. Usually, I can manage if I am able to find a seat and then put my head between my knees. Okay, even describing it now makes me feel slightly ill, so, I will
My room is the middle widow on the right side of the second floor.
Anyway, all that is to say, when the three of us were returning to our rooms in Petit-Bossey, my friend from Pakistan gave me some very sweet compliments. However, she did not seem to be able to recognize such similar qualities in herself, though they certainly exist. Now, that probably sounds familiar to most, if not all, of us. I pointed out to her that she must be very smart for she is a nurse! As she tried to play it off and somehow justify that her work was merely a consequence of her situation than her abilities a tragic story of reality unraveled. Only as I recall it now am I able to begin to process the magnitude of the horrors of her daily life.
As is the case with many who live in an almost constant state of calamity or amidst frequent, spontaneous shocks, she recounted her work day as if it were as normal as a 9-5 office job. Laughing a little as she said it, she gave credit to the regular bomb blasts as being almost the enabler for her nursing vocation. My Swedish friend either couldn’t understand her or didn’t believe
what she was saying so she repeated, “Bomb blasts. Bomb. Blasts,” multiple times. I hadn’t even thought about this fact. NPR only shares so many stories about the bombings in Pakistan, I had no clue they were so regular. Just as much or more shocking to me was the way she described her job as nonchalantly as one might explain, “Everyday I file papers. Big companies always have lots of paper work to file and so they need many people to file it. So, I do that.” It seems to me, perhaps her laughter when describing this is her way of acknowledging, yes, the violent reality of my country is tragic. Yet, almost simultaneously, her coping mechanisms cause her to articulate that reality in a very matter-of-fact way. This was the case when she began to describe the details of her work, ‘Oh, yes, so much blood. Our outfits are white, but always look red. So much blood.’ Now, part of the reason she speaks so plainly is due to the fact that she has only been studying English for about three months now. Nevertheless, her mild facial expressions and placid tone matched her simple words—this is daily life. Then,
when her tone was expressive it seemed like she enhanced it only because she sensed we thought the blood and trauma was horrific, but not that it really affected her all that much. Then she described and pantomimed how many people are without limbs and how she sits and takes care of them.
I acknowledge how much I admired her because neither my friend from Sweden nor I could ever do such work. We would be sick! We would probably freeze up and some nurse might feel the need to leave a bleeding patient who was actually in serious need to tend to us who had suddenly fainted in the corner from shock. In some ways I wish I were able to do the kind of work she does. I would love to be able to compassionately tend to someone confined to their hospital bed in their most pained and distressing moments of life. But, I’m not even sure that’s something can be learned. I know we can instinctually enter into a survival mode and care for others, but that state of high tension cannot be maintained; in any healthy way at least. No, I think you’re either born
with such a gift or not. Sure, maybe someone could learn how to do this type of work, but only to an extent. If you really want to work in the medical field and maintain your sanity you need to be born with a gift for it.
I think back now, how different the three of us are. My friend from Sweden and I have all the advantages of our affluent, safe (for the most part) countries. We have been blessed with the opportunity to exercise our minds amidst a plethora of options. We have already reached high levels of education and have the means to afford them. This reality is praised, is prized, is idealized! But, that which is certainly of equal importance and value, but simply different work in a different circumstance is the investment and compassion of my friend nursing bomb victims. She is the gentle voice, the tender touch, and the comforting provider to people in incomprehensible agony. I may be able to succeed with the highest level of education I desire, but no class, no professor could teach me to do what she does. For it is not a matter of teaching, but enabling.
As I said before, I think it’s a gift we’re born with or not. I was not. And that is okay.
I am so grateful for her. I am grateful for the sake of the patients she cares for in their most dire and desperate moments of life. I am grateful for her sake. I can only imagine what a reprieve the daily life at Bossey is for her. The slow, tranquil pace of country living. Cows grazing in the fields, farmers harvesting their grapes, apples, corn, and sugar beets. The sounds of bomb blasts replaced by merely occasional blank gun shots sent into the air by farmers to scare off the birds. The only other sounds are the hum of the tractors, the infrequent cars, the spinning of bicycle wheels and the rustling leaves…overall calm. And, I am grateful for her for my own sake. I am grateful she brought reality and perspective to my front door. She ushered them in. She unveiled their faces.
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