The Art of Nursing and Non Attachment

"Department of Washington" collaborated by Artists John Graeter & Anna King
"Dept. of Washington" collaboration by Artists John Graeter & Anna King

     Last night was First Thursday in Portland, and David and I made the rounds in the Old Town Neighborhood at Everett Street Lofts. We particularly went to see Anna S. King’s and John Graeter’s shows at The Anka Gallery, and to congratulate our friend Brian, who opened the new Tribute Gallery, also at Everett Street Lofts. 

   I ran into a lot of friends while gallery hopping, including an artist with whom I got into a discussion about the Buddhist concept of non attachment. He told me he occasionally used to take a small painting or art work he had made, one he particularly liked, light it on fire in his driveway, and watch the flames consume it. He said he did it to remind himself that the outcome of his effort didn’t belong to him, and to let go of it.

   His words resonated within me, and this morning, my on-line horoscope corroborated with this piece of advice:

“Caring about the outcome of the situation doesn’t mean that you need to throw yourself into it headfirst.”

     It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn, especially as a nurse.  I have a tendency to push my own limits when it comes to advocating for a patient, but in the past, not so much for myself. This means that I have very little difficulty going toe-to-toe with a doctor, surly ER nurse, or ancillary department to meet the needs of my patient. However, in the past, I would ignore my own needs on the same busy unit in which I was advocating for my patients. I would ignore that I had worked hard over six hours without a break, let alone lunch. I could hold urine in my bladder until I forgot that I needed to use a restroom. I could work extra hours or shifts on nights until I couldn’t remember how I drove home the next morning.

     I did this along with my colleagues, in the name of patient care,  for years, until one day, my body told me I had to stop, or it would.

     I was forced to reevaluate my priorities. I realized that sacrificing my health is not a requirement for taking care of others.

     But it is hard to reject the culture of nursing, which deeply embeds into its initiates the lie that if I take a lunch break, and something happens to my patient during that half hour, or  ten minute bathroom break, it’s my fault. The illogical belief that a patient’s ultimate outcome depends on my constant presence.

     Administration cannot change that culture for us, we have to do it ourselves. We have to support one another by working together as a team in our units.

     I have worked in units that have successfully changed this culture. It can be done. But we have to do it for ourselves.