When there is a rock in our path, we can stumble over it or use it as a stepping stone.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Caretaker Patient Symbiosis

In "Serendipity and Synchronicity," I wrote about two of my favorite words.   Today, I have a third "S" word to add to the list:  .

Most of the blogs I read are dementia related but on my travels, I have stumbled across a few blogs where the personality of the author of the blog keeps me reading, even though the topic would not normally be on my reading list.     Exorphin Junkie falls into that category.    Yesterday's EJ post on "Mouse Bread"  made me realize that Symbiotic has to be added to my list of favorite words.

Even though the common view would be that the caretaker gives and the patient receives, I think the relationship is symbiotic as there have been a number of studies now that show that helping others benefits the helper in a variety of physical (including stimulating the immune system) and psychological ways.     I would add that I believe the caretaker also receives many opportunities for spiritual growth when caring for someone with a progressive, degenerative, incurable, terminal prognosis.


Cellarguy said...

It is one of life's ironies. For altruistic motives I deliberately sought out a job where I thought I could finally give something (caring for a dying patient) where the gift could not be returned.

What a fool I was. I have always, always, received far more than I could ever give.

Yesterday a young girl who wants to become a nurse spoke with me. I asked her what kind of nurse she wanted to be, and she immediately replied "An O.R. nurse." She paused then and said, "I don't think I could ever do what you do. I think you have to be rather hardened to be a palliative care nurse."

"I hope not," I replied. "The day I become hardened to it is the day I leave." I believe we have to be utterly soft to do our job. That's the Tao of Nursing. We must feel every death to remain caring. When I no longer care, I cannot do my job, because that is the job.

That is why I try to monitor myself, and ask myself what each death does to me. Reflection for a nurse is like sharpening a knife. Like testing a blade on a hair or your thumb, the heart must still be cut. When it is all calloused with scar tissue, we sharpen the blade all the more.

In my reflections, I have come to understand that my original motives were never so pure as I imagined. Of course I was hoping to receive something profoundly spiritual from my patients. And although I cannot talk about it, I can say that I most certainly do receive from them, and it is more humbling than you can imagine.

Stumblinn said...

Thank you for visiting and for leaving such a wonderfully insightful comment.

I've read a number of things written by people who work with the dying and I know it takes a very special type of person to do so effectively - not just because of needing to be able to remain open in the face of all of the pain but also to be able to step outside of your role when that is what the terminally ill person most needs and just be with them for a little while on a soul to soul level rather than social worker/doctor/nurse etc. to patient.

I salute you for having the strength to remain open to your patients and the wisdom to monitor yourself to ensure that you are functioning at a level where you can meet your patients' needs.