Statistically speaking, only a small handful of those reading this article are likely to become licensed nurses. On the other hand, an overwhelming majority – maybe even 100 percent – will at one time or another find themselves doing at least some of what nurses do. Whether it’s caring for a sick child, delivering a meal to a neighbor in need, or helping an elderly relative navigate his or her way through a rough patch in life, sooner or later we’re all destined to draw on our innate ability to comfort another.
As rewarding as this may be, however, it can also be immensely draining, both mentally and physically. But not necessarily.
Consider, for instance, Florence Nightingale. Years before any of us had ever heard of “caregiver burnout” or “compassion fatigue,” the founder of modern nursing proved by her own example – most notably during the Crimean War – that one’s personal well-being need not be sacrificed in the service of others. “When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick,” reported The Times (London), “she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”
How was she able to keep up the pace?
According to Mary Baker Eddy, a contemporary of Nightingale’s who, like the proverbial “Lady with the Lamp,” understood the practicality of relying on a power beyond one’s own when aiding the sick, “The explanation lies in the support which [she] derived from the divine law, rising above the human.”
“The spiritual demand, quelling the material,” Eddy continues, ”supplies energy and endurance surpassing all other aids, and forestalls the penalty which our beliefs would attach to our best deeds.”
Perhaps the most persistent of these beliefs is the idea that we only have so much to give before we – and by association, the people we’re caring for – start paying the price. Such was the case for Pamela Wible, a family physician with a nurse’s sensibility who had become utterly exhausted by what she describes as “assembly-line medicine.”
“I found myself cutting my patients off after 15 minutes when they really needed 60, not solving their problems, just putting Band-aids on them and saying, ‘come back later,’” said Wible during an interview last year.
Eventually she decided to open her own clinic, shifting the emphasis from the all-too-familiar high-tech, low-touch methods employed in most clinics and hospitals to a decidedly low-tech, high-touch approach that continues to serve her patients well, most of whom, Wible discovered, simply want to feel loved.
Ironically, even though she now spends more time than ever with her patients, Wible feels rejuvenated. “I love what I do. I love my patients,” she said. “This whole thing fuels me.”
While for some this may seem hard to believe, it’s certainly not without precedent. “A generous person will prosper,” we’re reminded in the Book of Proverbs, “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” This is true, not just for nurses and doctors, but anyone who might find themselves – often unexpectedly – fulfilling a similar role.
The key to success, of course, is less about the quantity of one’s time or even the extent of their skills than it is the quality of their thought – that sense of compassion that, while at times may feel as though it’s in short supply, has its source in the Divine.
Catching even a glimpse of this fact will undoubtedly make better nurses – and better healers – out of us all.