New Post: The Art of Nursing

May is all warm and fuzzy with Nurse’s Week. May renews love for what my mentor once dubbed “The noblest of professions.” May also marks the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. I am a fan of Nightingale, her work, her integrity, and her devotion to nursing’s science.


The Art of Nursing by jparadisi

The Art of Nursing by jparadisi

So, please, don’t misunderstand when I say there is a quote by Nightingale from 1868 in which I find the tiniest flaw:

 Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art, requires as exclusive a devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or cold marble compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s Spirit? Nursing is one of the fine arts; I had almost said, the finest of the fine arts.”

The troublesome part for me is describing “canvas or cold marble” as “dead.” As an artist, I tell you that there is no such thing as a dead canvas or sculptor’s stone. Yes, both are inanimate objects — no disagreement there. But anyone putting brush to canvas or chisel to stone knows that an interaction occurs between the artist and the medium. Writers know that a blank page stares back in judgmental and deafening silence. Art is a result of the interaction between the medium and the artist. As an art student, I once told an instructor, “I just want what I paint to look like what I see in my head.” Sympathetically, she replied, “That’s what all artists want. It never happens.”

Michelangelo said it best:

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

The personality of a canvas, stone, or blank page is manifested by its grain (tooth), flaws, and innate characteristics. Artists do not simply impose their will on canvas or stone. Art is the interaction between the artist and the medium.

So what does any of this have to do with nursing?

The art of nursing lies within a broader spectrum of skills than IV starts, and medication administration. It requires a nurse to discover the unique characteristics of each patient asking for help. Nurses chisel away at fear, pain, and grief to reveal a patient’s inner strengths and natural resiliency. We hold up a mirror, so our patients can see the beauty of the human spirit that we uncover.

Like canvas or stone, some patients are resistant to brush or chisel. Through devotion to our craft, we adapt our nursing skills to the realities of their character. Artists and nurses know a vision cannot be impressed upon a unreceptive surface, so we do what we can, knowing the result may fall short of our vision.

The nurse’s art, much like that of an artist or sculptor, utilizes the naturally occurring strengths and flaws in patients to create beauty from potential. The art exists within this interaction.

Happy Nurses Week!

Polymaths, Multitasking, and Renaissance Men (and Women)

On weekends, the clinic where I work closes when all of our patients are discharged. Sometimes we work a full eight-hour shift, but today, it means that we closed shop around lunchtime. This gift of a weekend afternoon causes mild distress, however, because I have to decide whether to spend it plinking out a new post for this blog, or playing hooky. Getting home without window shopping, and staying home instead of going for a run along the river doesn’t solve the problem. Once home, I avoid picking up one of the three books I’m reading, or the magazine articles next to my favorite chair, or the knitting project and completing “just a few rows”, until suddenly all the free time has evaporated.

Sergei. jparadisi

Today, I am writing about polymaths, multitasking, and Renaissance men (and women).

My daughter gave me the book A Left-Handed History of the World, by Ed Wright, because I am left-handed. It contains chapter-length biographies of left-handed people who shaped world history. It was published in 2007, so President Barack Obama isn’t included, but I’d look for him in future editions. Interestingly, of the twenty-nine biographies, only four are of women: Joan of Arc, Queen Victoria, Marie Curie, and Martina Navratilova, who shares her chapter with John McEnroe. Hmmmmmm. I’ll save that thought for another post.

Anyway, I read the chapters about the lefties Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo, because I wanted to understand the differences between a polymath, multitasking, and a Renaissance man (woman). Leonardo, according to Wright, was a polymath (a person of wide ranging knowledge and learning), but not very good at multitasking. According to Ed Wright, “His (DaVinci’s) low completion rate demonstrates the risks of divergent thinking. It’s unlikely that he completed more than 20 paintings in a 46-year career-in a way he had too much genius for one person to be able to effectively manage.” Maybe, but those 20 paintings are masterpieces Ed. And don’t forget about the wooden parachute that works, and the helicopter.

Michelangelo was more disciplined, able to multitask (simultaneous execution of more than one program or task by a single computer processor) and complete the work to which he commissioned himself. However, his drive and perfectionism came with a price. Wright says,

“Whereas Leonardo was known as a genial man, prone to procrastination and getting sidetracked, Michelangelo soon developed a reputation for a terrifying, obsessive perfectionism…The Florentines referred to his terribilitas, meaning ‘fearsome willpower’.”

I’m not well educated enough to claim to be a polymath. While I can multitask, I am happy to report that I am a nurse, and not a computer processor, which is a machine. The definition of Renaissance man is “a person with many talents or interests, esp. in the humanities,” and that is a description I will own.

I don’t believe in a balanced life.  A well-lived life is a dynamic organism, constantly changing. I live life as if it’s a juggling act, and as I’ve said before, the trick is knowing which balls in the air make you happy, and which ones make you frantic.

So, today I’m going to write for an hour or so. Then I’m going to read that article on feminism I’ve meant to get at all week. Afterward, I’ll pour something cold to drink and sit on the deck for what’s left of this beautiful afternoon, waiting for David to get home from work. Poor guy, he had to work his entire shift today.