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Category Archives: Pondering

Bearing Witness

Beyond the overt medicalized interventions that drive healing, I see a role in nursing that now seems so obvious, but was completely elusive to me until recently. The far more abstract responsibility of “bearing witness” serves a number of purposes in this profession. My fresh eyes as a novice student nurse have already witnessed both ends of the spectrum, from a wasted young man’s body ravaged by AIDS to the most beautiful and awe-filled hour of my life: childbirth. Both hold their own meaning and purpose and both have a story to tell. Meanwhile, I have also struggled with my own friend’s disease process, faltering when trying to define my role in the difficult contours of her illness as well as in coming to terms with its unfairness.

In the realm of my friend’s illness, I have realized that right now I can’t be both her nurse and her friend. I live too far away to stay constantly updated on her care. I simply cannot travel to her hospital every weekend, because I have my own health and well-being to tend to as I wade my way through this strenuous program. It has taken a long time for me to fully appreciate, and believe, that I can only give what I have to give. Right now, I can be her friend. I hope that’s enough.

In difficult moments in nursing, I can do more than be a compassionate nurse. I can write about it, a catharsis for me and hopefully an advocate for someone. I can bear witness to the pain, suffering and disease. This is something I first started thinking about when listening to a presentation from Doctors Without Borders (MSF). I used to believe, incorrectly, that they were an organization that just ran into a country in crisis and provided brief, unsustainable interventions. Good first aid, but not long-enduring change. My opinion is beginning to change, especially after listening to an incredibly thought-provoking discussion on bearing witness. Do we provide humanitarian aid to the victims of human-devised tragedy like genocide without taking a political stance? Where do we stand? Who do we treat? I can’t answer these questions for MSF (nor would I even remotely want to try) but I like the concept of retelling the stories, bearing witness and trying to be ethical. I think that some of the “psychological first aid” that they provide in crises actually comes from the re-telling of the stories afterward, in words that reverberate across headlines, blogs and lectures like the one I attended.

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Dorothy’s not in Kansas anymore

Here’s a spoonful of something, though I’m not quite sure what category it falls under!

Oblivious to my surroundings, I was paging through my notes on the Subway this afternoon, wishing it was already 24 hours later so I could be done with my finals. All of a sudden, I heard a cacophony of yelps and shrieks ripple down the car, and I looked up sharply. People were lifting their legs and making a ruckus, and it was a few seconds before I could decipher the cause. But the cause soon revealed itself to me as a mottled little rat scurried down the center aisle, clearly confused and hastily contemplating his misfortune. I’ll admit, I yelped a little too and lifted my own legs as the rat scuttled back down the other way again, passing me with mere inches. As the situation escalated, with more and more passengers involved, an off-the-job construction worker picked up one of his tools (a level, I believe), and with catlike reflexes, squashed the little creature. Suddenly, the poor soul looked pathetic, and I was sad. We take a life because we are temporarily afraid? It’s not exactly like smushing an ant, although I know there would be some who disagree with that too. But I momentarily forgot my concerns in favor of a moment of human connection. Everyone was looking around at each other, commenting, making eye contact! Suddenly we weren’t strangers in our own orange and yellow seat bubbles, brushing elbows but never exchanging a word. We had a connection, making us a temporary community. Lots of smiles and comments ensued. An older African-American man (a little rough around the edges, with clothes that have seen better days) who I would never normally connect with, looked at me and said, “Were you scared?” I thought about it and said, “I guess, a little bit. But now I feel a little sad.” He nodded, understanding, then said with wide eyes, “Well, I was scaaaared!” We smiled at each other, but then the spell was broken as the train pulled to a stop; my stop.

The rat and I both got off at the same stop (one with a little more dignity than the other, I have to say). As I exited the train I could swear, but can’t be totally certain, that I heard one of the male passengers comment slyly, “Look, the little kitten’s getting off at the same stop as the rat.”

Oh, New York. What a character you are.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2010 in Comic Quotes, Miscellaneous, Pondering

 

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It is what it is

This phrase follows me everywhere lately. You know how you notice the things that bug you, even if they aren’t really happening more frequently? For some reason I find these few words strung together particularly irritating, I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it is because the phrase is thrown into sentences haphazardly without much regard for whether the subject being spoken about is truly immutable. I like to think that we are in control of most things in our lives, that we can change or fix what we don’t like about ourselves, or about our situation. Clearly, that isn’t always true – I know that. I recognize my discomfort for the unchangeable. Today in Genetics class, when I saw the title of the video clip we were about to watch, “It is what it is” I thought it was ironic and of course, simultaneously appropriate for any of many genetic conditions. But I didn’t expect the movie to give new meaning for me for the filler-phrase “it is what it is.”

The movie was about Frontal Temporal Dementia, and chronicled the lives of numerous families and younger couples that were devastated by the disease’s inevitable progression and irreversible decline. It was a touching film and many in the room were teary by the end. But the tears making salty trails down my cheeks were more than just empathy for others, but sadness for my own connection to this unforgiving disease. I cried for myself, my family, and particularly for my mother who is also a daughter (something that I often fail to remember).

The following is a reflection that I wrote about my Safta about a year ago, but wish to recall now, as my memories of my sweet grandmother prior to being labeled with “dementia” fade further and further away. I am terrified that I will grasp gracelessly at these old memories as time marches on, struggling  to remember the full history of my amazing Safta. I wish I had started writing about her sooner, but at least I have my family to remember with. Surely, together, we can reconstruct and preserve safely in our own intact memories, the woman that we all collectively adore.

Memoir

Wisdom is something that I strive to attain, one day. To date, my only wisdom is in knowing that I am not yet wise. My grandmother, Safta, is the wisest person I know. To me, she is wise because she values the small things in life. She sees beauty everywhere: in the hummingbird that patronizes her dahlias, in the dahlias themselves, the patina of fall leaves plastered to the asphalt, and the clear clean sky after a hard rain. And she tells me how beautiful I am every time she sees me (beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder). Even as her clinically diagnosed dementia worsens, her appreciation for worldly wonders increases day by day. I realize that I move too fast when I take the time to slow down with my Safta. Why do I move so fast? Perhaps because I am not yet as wise as she is.

Safta demonstrates wisdom by embracing the simple joys of life.

A definition of wisdom, written by Paul Bates, is: “Expertise in the fundamental pragmatics of life, permitting exceptional insight and judgment involving complex and uncertain matters of the human condition.” My Safta has distilled life down to the fundamentals, in my perspective. She knows when something is worth her time and concern, and when she would be wasting her breath. She is happiest around those she loves, and she loves all human beings. Safta makes friends with the grocery store bagger at Albertson’s and asks for his phone number (which I found out when I was transcribing her hand-written address book into a more easily-read computer format). She does not discriminate: although my Saba (grandfather) is a world-renowned gastroenterologist, she gives the bagger at Albertson’s the same respect and attention that she give my grandfather’s well-respected colleagues. She prefers to shop at thrift stores. Why buy something new when there is so much life left in something old? (Although, when she purchased me used underwear on one occasion, I briefly questioned this value.) Even as it is distressing for me to watch my grandmother struggle with severe memory loss because I remember her so clearly as a quick-witted and sassy Safta, I forget all that the moment she takes me in her arms to dance gracefully to Pete Seger (her “other husband,” she says). I just wrap my capable arms around her frail yet sturdy shoulders and we sway. She is my Safta, and she has shared her wisdom with me. Why dwell on the things I cannot change? We dance instead.

—–

I guess the biggest thing that I gathered from the movie clip on dementia is that there are some things we can’t change. I can fight this every step of the way, or I can accept it more gracefully remembering that:

It is what it is. But it isn’t what it should be.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2010 in Memoir, Nursing School, Pondering

 

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