The Tangled Mess of Art and Nursing

Rain on Sidewalk photo: jparadisi 2011

The rain outside comes down in buckets. The sun, hidden by thick, dark clouds, casts no shadows to clue me in to how rapidly the morning is passing. I am restless. I find it difficult to sit at my desk and write a post. These unfocused days used to distress me. I felt sure I had used up every viable idea I would ever have.  Older and slightly wiser, (one does not necessarily lead to the other) now I recognize these days as periods of germination, but they have nothing to do with gardening. They are days obscured by ideas and feelings tangled together like the debris-matted hair of a trauma patient on the white sheets of an ICU bed. It takes time to carefully pick free each idea, one at a time, like washing dried blood from snarled hair. It’s messy work.

Making art is messy. History shows that making great art is often painfully so. Making a mess is counter-intuitive to nursing training. Nurses spend their shifts fixing the messes of others, while artists demand the freedom to color outside of the lines. I am learning to navigate this duality, which is pretty much my life.

The rain has slowed to a rhythmic beat upon the roof and dreamily I’m lulled into a memory. I am in the pediatric intensive care unit, holding the head of an unconscious patient, while my coworker gently washes her soiled, matted hair. Up until now, she has been too unstable to do so. It is my job to make sure her endotracheal tube stays in place, so the ventilator can continue to breathe for her. She tolerates the hair washing without need of further sedation, and her nurse parts her hair into strands and expertly begins French-braiding it. The skill and dexterity of his fingers surprise me as I watch. I’m not as good at French-braiding as he is. A father, he tells me his wife taught him how so he could get their daughters off to school properly on the days she had to work. I am impressed. When he finishes, we replace the wet sheets under his patient with clean, dry ones. Then he helps me wash my patient’s hair and French braids it too. I know that when both sets of parents return in the morning to visit their children, they will be pleased that we took the time to do for them what they cannot do while the children are PICU patients. I imagine them talking about it in the parents’ waiting room. Even the day shift nurses are impressed by my coworker’s unexpected skill.

I sit at my desk, picking stories out of the tangled mess of my memories.

One thought on “The Tangled Mess of Art and Nursing

  1. I am really glad you wrote this post, because it tells those who aren’t nurses what jobs nurses can do, skillfully!

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