Finding the Heart in Nursing

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By: Gillian Horner, R.N.

Last summer, my brother suddenly got very sick and was admitted to the hospital. The technical care he received saved his life and continues to keep him alive, but the time spent in the hospital was stressful, frightening and something to be survived in itself.

Many people who have been through medical treatment recognize this picture. As an anthroposophical nurse, sitting at my brother's bedside, I experienced the patient's perspective and struggled to cope with feelings of fear and powerlessness. I was surprised that little nursing care was given, and individual attention was hard to come by.

Urine bottles and empty glasses would build up by the bedside. I saw that through this neglect, my brother felt vulnerable and fearful. And when I left the ward, I felt afraid, too. I worried, would they notice if my brother deteriorated? The simple fact remains that when we are so ill, we desperately need to feel safe, and we need to know that people will notice our condition. We need to be nursed.

Unfortunately, within many nursing environments, nurses are able to perform only limited aspects of their role; they may be using highly technical skills, and be very effective as coordinators, but have little time or perhaps understanding of how to work directly with the patients. The therapeutic need for human contact frequently gets side-lined. Even in more patient-centered settings, care can be strongly drug-based or focused on narrow progress objectives. Within the present medical system the deeper understanding of nursing has, itself, become side-lined.

Anthroposophical medicine takes a different view of medical care. It is applied by conventionally-trained doctors and nurses who are interested in combining orthodox medical treatments with complementary practice. Working in an anthroposophical medical clinic over a number of years has given me the opportunity to experience what, to my mind, is nursing in a truer form. Anthroposophical medicine places the individual at the center of the picture rather than the illness. It encourages patients to recognize their own condition and strive to develop and change from within a deepening understanding of it.

Nurses can create a safe and nurturing environment to support patients in a journey through their illness. They are a reflective and accepting presence supporting the body-soul-spirit processes that the patient is experiencing. Through that they exert a strong healing influence. That support is at the heart of true nursing. The use of natural substances in the form of herbal compresses and foot-baths and the application of oils in rhythmical massage allow the nurse to work directly with the patient's condition. A healthy diet, anthroposophical therapies including art, massage and eurythmy and a peaceful country setting provide a foundation for a deeper healing and meeting with the self.

Working with this level of care for people also has the effect of stimulating in the nurse a parallel process of personal growth and change. This brings a depth of satisfaction, meaning and challenge to anthroposophical nursing.

Gillian Horner, R.N. is a nurse at Park Attwood Clinic.

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