Nursing Our Fellowmen

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“Nursing Our Fellowmen,” Ensign, Aug. 1995, 24

Nursing Our Fellowmen

The gospel provides the perspective I need as a nurse to avoid being overwhelmed by heartache and the effects of disease on those around me.

I could feel the tension as I walked toward the emergency room to begin my shift. It was a busy holiday weekend, and the nurse’s station was crowded with nurses and doctors, in addition to emergency medical technicians from one of the local ambulance crews. The door to the main trauma room was closed, and when I saw the head nurse from pediatrics, my heart sank. The patient receiving all the attention was a child.

I’ll never forget the scene as I entered the room and saw the bruised and broken body of little four-year-old Chad.* There were visible tire marks across his chest and legs, his lungs were being artificially inflated, and his heart was pumping as a result of external chest compressions. My years of experience as an emergency room nurse told me that in spite of the tubes, wires, monitors, and the efforts of everyone in the room, Chad would not live. After what seemed like hours, the physician pronounced Chad dead. One thought kept racing through my mind: This is someone’s little boy, and they don’t know he’s dead.

The doctor and I went to the waiting room and quickly recognized Chad’s family by the expressions of fear and hope we had seen many times before. We led Chad’s mother and father to a separate room where we informed them of their son’s passing. I was touched when, after shedding a few tears, the parents lovingly and calmly told their two young sons that their brother Chad had “gone back to live with Heavenly Father.”

Death is something that most nurses encounter regularly in their work with seriously ill or injured patients. It is a reality of the nursing profession that takes on a different meaning for Latter-day Saints. If I did not have an understanding of the plan of salvation, it would be difficult to witness death as often as I do without experiencing debilitating grief. “But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ” (Mosiah 16:8).

Death is only one of many challenges faced by nurses, but a firm testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ helps me deal with each of these challenges as they arise. I find insight and comfort in knowing that out of trial, heartache, and even tragedy comes “experience … [that] shall be for [our] good” (D&C 122:7), that ultimately, with faith in Christ, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).

Human Suffering

In nursing school we learn that part of our job is to decrease the suffering of others. Upon hearing that I am a nurse, people often remark that my work “must be so rewarding.” When patients recover and injuries are healed, I do feel a genuine sense of accomplishment. But few people realize how frustrated, sorrowful, and even angry a nurse can feel when watching human suffering at its worst.

I recall an elderly woman I once cared for while working in the intensive care unit. Her hospitalization was preceded by a lengthy illness that progressed to the point where her only chance for survival was surgery. Her condition was so severe that following surgery she had to be placed on life support. For six weeks she remained attached to a breathing machine and received a constant infusion of multiple medications, all designed to keep her alive. I knew her condition was not improving, and as I thought about her quality of life and those making the decisions to keep her alive, I felt angry. I wondered why she was being allowed to suffer so much, and I began to feel as if I was going to work each day to add to her pain.

This wasn’t the first time I’d struggled with this frustration and anger, and I made it a matter of prayer, searching for answers that would bring me peace as I worked with patients who sometimes seemed to be simply waiting to die.

I found great comfort in a statement by President Spencer W. Kimball. “Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 168).

I realized that my feelings had resulted from a lack of understanding. As a nurse, I am allowed to witness tremendous growth in Heavenly Father’s children as they come closer to perfection through personal suffering. I too can benefit spiritually as I work so closely with my spiritual brothers and sisters and do what I can to ease their body and soul.

Shift Work

Nurses work in a variety of settings, but just about all of us have had to take a turn at working different shifts, including weekends. This makes attending church regularly and fulfilling Church callings sometimes difficult. It doesn’t take long for spirituality to wane when Sunday meeting attendance and fellowship with other members of the Church are lacking. For this reason regular prayer and scripture study are a necessity. As a child of God and as a nurse, I know that time spent studying the gospel of Jesus Christ and communicating with my Father in Heaven is crucial if I am to obtain the guidance and strength I need professionally and personally.

Several nurses I know attend other wards when they have to work during the meeting times of their own wards. One friend is able to teach Sunday School because her bishop has called another ward member to teach the class when she is scheduled to work.

In order for me to gain spiritual strength and set a good example for my children, I sometimes worked a double shift on Saturday nights so that I could attend my Sunday meetings. This was challenging, especially when I served in the bishopric. Some weekends I worked sixteen hours through Saturday night and then went straight to church for my meetings.

It was during this time that I learned how much the Lord blesses us when we are faithful and diligent (see D&C 59:4). I believe that my current work schedule, which allows me to attend all of my meetings as well as sleep during normal hours, is a result of my earlier decision to do all within my power to faithfully fulfill my callings and attend my meetings.

Working Mothers

The majority of nurses are women. Often these working women come to a point when they have to make difficult decisions about work and family. I work with many good mothers who have prayerfully arranged their lives to meet the needs of their husbands and children. Many of those I work with are single parents and have no choice but to work outside the home. Others are in circumstances where their income is the primary source of support for their families.

I know some mothers who choose to work night shifts—not because they enjoy it, but because they want to be home with their children during the day. One nurse I worked with regularly arrived home from the night shift in time to see her children off to school. She taught nursing at a local college during the day and often got home in the afternoon about the same time her children did. This dedicated sister would then prepare dinner and attend to other needs in her family. During this period, she also faithfully served in her ward.

Obviously, not everyone can survive on only a few hours of sleep a night like my friend did. But the point is that the Lord has guided these women as they have prayerfully made decisions. I have seen great blessings realized in the homes of my colleagues as they strive to be obedient and serve others and as their children watch and follow their righteous examples.

Judging and Fear

Whether working with a child battling a serious case of the flu or with a patient in the advanced stages of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), nurses must be concerned about possible risk of contagion. On a daily basis nurses are exposed to illnesses and conditions that could be potentially fatal. In caring for people who are suffering from today’s social diseases, it is easy to become judgmental of them and fearful of contracting their illnesses.

As a nurse I have cared for individuals who were suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, or other illnesses that likely resulted from their lifestyles. My first reaction was to judge and silently condemn these patients for their actions. But it didn’t take me long to realize that they are children of Heavenly Father who deserve the same competent care I give to my other patients. The atonement of the Savior is as effective for them as for anyone else who properly repents.

The Lord taught: “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment” (JST, Matt. 7:2). Later, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ also said, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10). The Lord loves us all, and we are commanded to do the same (see Matt. 22:36–40).

Regulations have been designed to protect nurses from exposure to diseases that could infect them and be passed on to family members. To Latter-day Saint nurses, protective devices and guidelines are only a part of necessary safety measures. President Kimball taught that after we take wise precautions, true protection comes from the Lord (see The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 122). Each day before leaving for work I make it a point in my personal prayers to ask for protection. In our family prayers we also pray for protection throughout the day.

Honoring the Priesthood

One of the greatest privileges I have as a male nurse is using my priesthood to bless others. What better motivation could there be to stay worthy of the priesthood than the constant possibility of being called upon, without warning, to administer a priesthood blessing to someone I have never met? I have participated in many such blessings and have seen miracles. On occasion, following priesthood blessings, surgical procedures have become unnecessary, symptoms have disappeared, and doctors have been inspired to provide healing treatments for their patients.

I recall one Sunday morning when a mother asked me to administer to her teenage son. He had been ill for nearly a week and was scheduled for surgery the following morning if his condition didn’t improve. After a friend of mine anointed the young man’s head, I sealed the anointing and blessed the young man that he would be healed according to his faith. The next morning the boy’s doctor was astonished to find no sign of the illness that had led to hospitalization. This faithful son went home from the hospital that same day. I felt as if the Lord himself had written the discharge order: “Thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matt. 9:22).

I am grateful for my profession and the opportunity it gives me to care for others. I am grateful for the people I work with and those I have cared for. Most of all, I am grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessings that come to me as a result of my testimony of its truthfulness. The gospel can provide us with peace, strength, understanding, and guidance as we confront the challenges and harsh realities of living and working in an imperfect world.

Photography by Steve Bunderson; posed by models