There’s an oil painting called “Surgery,” that I’ve seen many times in books on Art and the History of Medicine but only once in a museum. It was bigger than life and looked old and cracked. It’s a dark and somber painting which shows a doctor dressed in a black suit who is cutting off the leg of a patient whose face is distorted in pain. He is being held down by several other men, students of medicine I suppose, the sleeves of their white shirts rolled up. One man has a cigarette, long ashes threatening to fall, dangling from his lips. At the end of the table on the floor, there is a ceramic bucket placed to catch the flowing blood. It is a painting of art depicting the beginnings of the science of medicine.
Any nurse, in fact anyone with imagination, can empathize with that patient now and imagine how painful that original surgery must have been. But also, now that we have an understanding of the causes of infection, once we’ve seen the reality of “bacteria” and know how it is spread, that painting in even more disturbing. Those doctors wore no masks, no gloves, there was no sterilization. Looking at that painting, one can almost smell infection. Without making a very big jump, a nurse can follow as it spreads from ward to ward; as it maims and kills.
Now please don’t misunderstand. I’m not blaming anyone. The cause of infections hadn’t yet been discovered. At that time no one could see bacteria or imagine it wiggling from one patient to another on the hands or shirts or towels of those taking care of them. They had no knowledge of the cause or effect of transmitting bacteria, no way of knowing about sterilization. Still, the cost of their not knowing was steep for those patients.
And now? you ask. What has that got to do with us now? Well, one day last week, I was visiting a very sick friend in a very modern hospital, when a nurse, harried and frustrated by all the bureaucracy in this hospital stopped into my friends room to give her medication. My friend asked for pain medicine, and with a frown and a snappy tone in her voice, the nurse told her, she’d have to wait. Suddenly, that picture came to mind. And I wondered how often, we, as caretakers and healers, impair a patient’s survival by what we do not know.
Maybe now it’s not with the spread of bacteria because we’ve learned to wash our hands and sterilize our equipment but something even more subtle: the transmission of negative energy.
There have been studies done on the healing power of love. Not the new age type, or even the airy fairy angel type. But rather the type that has volunteers in to hold preemie babies who then thrive in larger numbers than their unheld neighbors. With all the research being done on mind-body interactions, observer effect, and the power of prayer, how big a leap do we have to take before we understand that there exists something in the unseen areas of healing that we’ve yet to identify and therefore acknowledge.
And we as Nurses? What happens when we are feeling angry or frustrated by the conditions at work or at home? When our unit is understaffed, our patients demanding, and administration unreasonably demanding? How often do we enter a patients room to answer a call bed with all our irritation and frustration clinging to our own energy field like muddy little magnets? Do we understand at this point in time and in medicine, what effect that negative energy has on our patients healing? What if that negativity, like unseen bacteria, can be transmitted?
At the very least it causes a patient who already feels vulnerable, stress. And stress has already been acknowledged by numerous studies as having a part in causing illness and delaying healing. How does our energy in the most subtle ways, effect our patients? What we already know is that children can fade away and die from lack of love: that they thrive and grow stronger in an environment of love. That’s pretty much accepted now. When someone is sick, their defenses break down, they become more vulnerable, more needy, therefore more childlike. Sickness can make any of us children, so why wouldn’t the same precept of love as a healer extend to any of us? How can we, as nurses, help our patients heal more quickly by being more loving? How can we transfer our intention for that healing and for their well being, most effectively?
I’ve found something that works for me that might help you. Whether I’m taking care of a patient, talking to my children or trying tocommunicate with anyone else, what I do in my imagination, in my mind, before I speak is build a pink bridge of energy from my heart to theirs. Then, as I speak, I picture myself walking across that bridge until I reach them. For me, pink represents the energy of Love and so when I speak my intention is clearly on being more loving. Building that bridge, especially when I’m angry and frustrated, takes enough time and thought to allow my anger to diffuse, my frustration to dissipate. By the time it’s built and I’ve walked across it, I’m very aware of my intention. It allows me to be more patient even if the other I’m walking toward isn’t, even if they misinterpret my words. I, at least am clear about what I’m trying to do.
Building pink bridges isn’t going to make our patients drop their crutches and walk again, but it does clarify why we are helpers. It does remind us that the reason we chose nursing was to serve and help to heal. And someday, we may find out that reducing negative energy and purifying our intentions is as effective in preventing the spread ofdisease, as washing our hands!
Here’s hoping – Carol Gino