Indelible Impressions - On the Ways Nursing Has Raised Me


Over eleven years ago I had my first ever patient interactions as a nursing student and nearly eight years ago I graduated my degree in nursing and started work in a profession that has been immeasurably formative for me. Being engaged in the process of transitioning my career focus into full time teaching has provoked frequent unpacking of stories, limiting beliefs and equally reflection on what these last eleven years have meant and how they have moulded me as a caregiver, a teacher and as a human being. 

The hospital is a place where reality and experience is often acute, up close and always incredibly personal. It holds us rapt and present and demands a full bodied attention from us. We are privy to the most anomalous, but deeply human, moments in other people’s lives. Though the day to day challenge can sometimes break the connection to this, at my core I have a tremendous amount of respect for what a rare privilege that is. 

Acute crisis is a very unique experience. It places a specific kind of demand on the nervous system. It invokes a kind of high level presence to the microcosm unfolding in the moment, and drops us very precisely into its centre - all systems engaged, all faculties of awareness right here and now. Where attention seems to become super sensory enabling a very refined attunement to the subtle cues and moving parts within a moment.  We move to meet the very real demands of the physical body in the moment of crisis in a way that is a marriage of pure instinct and rigorously developed intellect and knowledge base. In the same moment we are still presented with the reality of the human element, the emotional impact and the vast depths of vulnerability as well as the myriad ways this expresses itself. We arrive, just as much, to be the grounding chord to the energy that is moving in a moment that is too much for another human to transmute alone. We adopt the role of space holder and pillar for others in order to enfold them back into the knowing that they are seen and held. 

We meet others at momentous intersections of life. We know the look, feeling and tone of edges. We have been there, walked there willingly, stood steady and rooted there, held hands and weeping hearts there. We have chosen to know it, to have an intimate understanding of it. We have attempted to develop a relative comfort at the precipice in order to bear the experience and share the weight of it. We have been initiated and shaped irrevocably by it. Because of this we get to know the province of grace and the most profound intricacies of humanity. Because of this we also get the opportunity to know and bear witness to a level of joy, gratitude, relief and celebration that is absolutely unparalleled. 

Here is what I continue to learn from it:

  • The world is a very real place. Real does not mean logical or understandable. Real, in this way, means acute, close and chock full of polarity. 
  • Right and wrong, good and bad – these things don’t intersect or directly relate. Goodness is not a determinant of outcome or of the degree of challenge we will meet. 
  • The human spirit is more indomitable than any other force of nature. 
  • There is an immense wellspring of strength in mamas and papas (and human beings in general) they could scarcely have guessed existed until they are forced to draw upon it. 
  • Working with children will teach you to melt and keep your edges soft so that you can stay immersed in the moment. These are big souls in tiny bodies and when the edges stay soft you can fall in love a thousand times over. 
  • Hardiness and emotional endurance will come, not always as a natural inclination, but out of sheer necessity it is honed. 
  • There are things that simply do not make sense, things that come up short on finding a balancing edge and that you may never wrap your mind around. The only available solution is to understand that this is the case. Real tragedies do happen and it won’t make sense, it doesn’t have to and perhaps it’s not always supposed to. 
  • Meaning is highly subjective and each person’s individual perception does have a degree of validity to it.
  • Most times you will love, laugh and exude tenderness.
  • Sometimes you will ache, cry, grieve and rage. These, too, are precious and edifying states. 
  • What sometimes seems like lunacy and beyond our capacity to cope or keep up with rarely is. There is always a way through, even when the trajectory defies expectations or hoped-for outcomes. 
  • It is important for our wellbeing to return to the residues of challenging moments, to source out their landmarks in body and mind, in order to finish living them out before the storage becomes more complex and creates stagnancy or hardening in our system.
  • All things can be alchemized into love. We can let it break us apart or choose to have it break us down into our raw material such that we can become more whole and integrated because of it. 
  • Miracles are real. Truly. There are outcomes that defy what logic and science and statistics can mathematically define. And miracles exist even more so in the minutia, the tiny moments that may not normally overwhelm us but amount to something profound.
  • Hope and prayer is powerful. 
  • Asking for help is transformative, both in mundane and monumental circumstances. 
  • You are always in good company should you find yourself surrounded by nurses. They are nothing if not fierce, passionate and profoundly loving human beings. They exceed all definitions of camaraderie in the way they show up for one another. There is a very seamless rhythm of cooperation and united focus on not only preserving, but truly improving life for the populations they serve. When challenge comes it never ceases to amaze me how much immediacy there is to the way this crew comes together to simply move in the right direction. 

Truly, I am only one, singular, nurse which renders this a highly personal account of the time I have spent doing this work and the impressions it has made and is still making on me. This list of lessons is far from complete or all encompassing, nor is it presented in order of degree of impact or importance. Though these impressions and lessons arrived in large part from nursing and are directly applicable there, I have found them to carry over and be readily applicable to the broader human experience. 

I am profoundly grateful that this has been a part of my journey and has shaped so much of my worldview and the way I move within it. It has been, and continues to be, a real honour and privilege to walk alongside the patients, families and colleagues it has introduced me to. I am also incredibly grateful for how much necessity it created around my practices and how much it directed me to go on the hunt for that sustenance and anchor through yoga and meditation. It raised me and turned me in the direction I am heading. However the timeline plays out, this experience and these humans have a part of my heart and soul irrevocably.