It is always said that nursing is an art and a science. The science part is the stuff of text books, multiple choice exams, and late-night cram sessions. We memorize this and ultimately, put it into practice.

The art is the component that you can not make flash cards for. It’s something you feel, something you do.

Compassion is also a verb.

In all honesty, I thought my time in Kolkata in east india would be more nursing science. I thought, “I’m a nurse! I’m here to help! use me! injections? fluids that need hung? wound care? no problem!”

However, my time was more so spent practicing the art of nursing. At times I was very confused. Was I even being helpful?

I did lots of laundry. I wrung out dirty diapers and helped hang hundreds of pieces of clothing on lines in sweltering heat. I fed orphans, and their drool and food-spit got all over me. I held the hands of dying women, the stench was terrible. I carried crippled women to their cots and tried to help them get comfortable. I sang to orphans (my voice is terrible!) and helped do some stretches with children that had severe cerebral palsy. It was heartbreaking when my sweet girl cried when I had to put braces on her legs to straighten them and help her stand.

To be completely transparent, at times, I was totally disgusted. I don’t like bodily secretions touching me, and I dislike smells even more. I struggled a lot with it all. at these times, I wish there was some way to overcome these aversions of mine. I wanted my compassion to be so strong and so lovely, that the smells didn’t smell and the drool and urine didn’t make me feel sick. I wished there were flashcards for this!

Something that helped some of my discomfort dissipate and allowed me to continue to smile and touch people was to watch the sisters who have spent their lives devoted in every way to the orphans, the sick, disabled, dying, and destitute. It is so pure, so refreshing, and beautiful. When dying women reached out for an embrace, then took my hands and whispered “namaste” and kissed them, that seemed like the only thing that mattered and I was very ashamed that I had questioned things like hygiene.

Sometimes, I guess there are more pertinent matters to take into consideration … like how a dying woman needs love, and needs to feel that she is not alone.

I did get to give an NG tube feeding. Curried dal. As in, I pulled up pureed curried dal through the syringe and pushed it into the woman’s NG tube, and thought to myself, “my god, I’m in india.” But I have had that thought more times than I can possibly count. The whole experience was lovely, challenging, and character building in many ways.

Compassion can not be taught through textbooks, but there is a way to learn. You don’t have to go to another country to learn it … maybe it’s just something you choose to do and to be. Something you watch other people do and then try to emulate. I don’t know. I just know that I don’t have enough yet and I’ve learned that not having enough isn’t an excuse to not practice it more. I think that sometimes doing the things that make you cringe inwardly are the best things you can do.

love and peace from india,


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