A Labor of Love

A Labor of Love

By Christina Feist-Heilmeier

For nurses, sometimes caring is a decision and not always an easy one. This applies to our patients, our spouses, our children and our co-workers. People need to be good to each other! Every new patient encounter is a new decision of our free will to either de-personalize and objectify the person, or to embrace the opportunity to truly care for and with them. Many of these caring ideals were foundational for Florence Nightingale but have lost their power and popularity over time. In her writings, it is undeniably clear that Nightingale was motivated to practice caring and efficient nursing by her deep faith. As in Nightingale’s work, nurses today need to pay careful attention to those windows of opportunity we are given, and to show an extra measure of caring and love to our patients.  We need to listen carefully to what the patient may not be saying in words. I once had the opportunity to do that for a beautiful woman in Alaska…

Waking to a gray and misty morning, the mountain tops peaked in and out of the fog. A typical southeast Alaska morning it was, but a very atypical day it would become for me, the new nurse. Pausing for a moment to offer a little prayer, a great and warm consolation overwhelmed me. Puzzled, I continued on my way to labor and delivery where I was met with a tremendous challenge. A beautiful Tlingit woman, very high with child, had only recently received the news that her baby was no longer alive. She remembered well her baby’s gentle kicks which suddenly ceased two days earlier. We were faced with the difficult task of inducing labor to deliver her lifeless, precious baby. I was overwhelmed with the challenge and wondered if I could possibly function well for this patient. 

Carole trembled as I prepared the solution that would soon start her labor pains. I asked her if she would like to pray before we began. She agreed, as we bowed our heads saying, “Lord, we don’t know why things happen the way they sometimes do, but we have a very difficult thing to do here today, and we ask you to please help us. Amen.” It suddenly occurred to me exactly why I had received such a warm, surprise consolation earlier that morning! It gave me the courage to proceed in this tragic task. Surprisingly, Carole had minimal discomfort throughout her labor, and the process seemed expedited by heaven itself. Her labor progressed until her little girl was born later that morning. I cleansed and swaddled the babe, and placed her in her mother’s arms. Tears filled our eyes as we began to mourn her loss. We spent most of the day bonding with the baby and grieving her loss.

Carole’s grief lessened over time. I saw her years later in the heart of Sitka, as she called to me exclaiming, “We had a healthy baby and I’m very happily married to his daddy!” I could see it was very important to her that I hear the good news. I shared in her joy as I peered up at the glorious mountains, offering a little prayer of thanks to the One who gives life, the One who takes life, the One who consoles, the One in whom we trust. 
Caring must be a decision for a nurse, whether as a new graduate at the bedside, an experienced clinician, an experienced educator, or a director of nurses. We cannot allow our caring to be affected by the surrounding circumstances of the moment. We must strive to care in every moment of practice. Productivity and legal concerns challenge our caring ability and there are moments of disillusionment when we do not feel like caring, too. As peers, nurses need to help their colleagues through these difficult situations by early identification and prompt, supportive action. In many cases, it can mean keeping an employee on board or keeping a nurse in nursing altogether. Regardless of the nurse’s job description, every nurse needs to know that caring is a decision, whether we feel like caring or not. Developing this mental skill can help keep us from fleeing to other professions.
“We cannot give on the outside what we do not have on the inside” – Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Every patient is an endless gift. Each, like space and time, has limitless depths and dimensions that only the Creator completely understands. Nurses can uncover and appreciate each unique individual. We care for and love others as our originator does us.
With these ideals in the forefront of our minds and hearts, caring becomes much easier to do. It is therapeutic for both nurse and patient. Oh that every nurse would commit to strive to be the nurse who is at peace and totally present, even listening to what the person does not say in words! Oh that the little whispers and inklings from the patient would no longer be sacrificed at the altar of tension and productivity, but heard and addressed by the nurse who is careful enough to keep caring!

About the Author

Christina Feist-Heilmeier, RN, MSN, author, and speaker has spent thirty years in the healthcare world, specializing in geriatric, obstetrical, and medical/surgical nursing.  Christina is a strong advocate for nurses and is the author of Nurses Are From Heaven.

Click here to learn more on Christina Feist-Heilmeier.


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