Messy, Tangled Grace
by Mackenzie Ailes
I remember the first time I did not want to be a nurse. I had studied all week, armed with 958 flashcards in preparation for the pathophysiology and pharmacology exam. I recall the test in front of me and being confident of zero percent of my answers; I got 45% on that exam. Imagine if you were lying in a hospital bed and your nurse introduced herself with, “Hi my name is Mackenzie, and there is a 45% chance that I am going to keep you alive today.”
I was not used to failing. However, I had no idea what the nursing program was going to ask of me. I had no idea I'd celebrate a life entering the world only to watch parents grieve a baby who couldn't learn to breathe. Who knew I'd hold the hand of a terrified daughter as her mom left for a scan to see if the cancer had spread? I did not anticipate participating in a code on a 12-year-old after he had been racing four-wheelers with his brother.
I thought pathophysiology and pharmacology were hard. I had no concept of the number of times I would hit my knees, asking God for help.
Sometimes God has a way of tapping us on the shoulder and spinning us around. Although my knowledge of pathophysiology and pharmacology, evidence-based practice, and dimensional analysis were necessary for nursing practice, maybe they are not what is most important. In the spring of my junior year, I completed a mental health rotation. One shift, I walked up to a girl who looked to be about my age and was coloring quietly. I pretended not to notice the markings etched into her arms. She told me that she had been admitted for stabilization after a suicide attempt. She looked at me, her big blue eyes hollow and full of tears. Her shaky voice walked me down roads that gave the markings meaning. In her moment of desperation, she had been convinced she'd never be enough, that she'd never be worthy of love. She convinced herself it was her fault.
I took her hands and promised her that her life mattered. I told her that she had a purpose. I helped carry the dark, heavy load. Mostly, I looked her into her eyes, human to human, and muttered an honest, “Me, too.”
Maybe that is key to being the best nurse—holding the scared and shaky hands of another and not being ashamed to whisper, “Me, too.” Maybe it is also the key to being the best person. Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he called us to love each other well. You will be a good nurse with the skill and knowledge you have, but you will be a great nurse when you can sit at the bedside and rub lotion on the feet of someone who has walked a completely different story than you, and do it with love.
As nurses, we are not always celebrated for the way we can interpret an EKG strip in seconds, anticipating an angry heart before it makes up its mind. Our patients may not thank us for the way we draw arterial blood gases in the case of a respiratory emergency or for the way we push fluid into a convulsing body and watch stillness return. We may not be celebrated for our critical thinking and our anticipatory assessments. However, may we always be celebrated for the way we kneel and hold the hand of the terrified. May we always be celebrated for walking into a messy and tangled story and handling it with gentle grace.
You have been given the gift of holding human life in your hands. Remember to handle it with care, leaving your judgment at the door. Remember that each human you meet is living in a narrative with hardships you know nothing about. Remember to love first. At the end of the day, nurses have the skills and knowledge to assist in healing the sick, but perhaps it's actually love that saves a life.