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Experiencing God in Nursing

Simon, Elizabeth B.; Hodges, Ryan; Schoonover-Shoffner, Kathy

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doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000637
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Abstract

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Henry Blackaby, in his famous book, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God (2008), explains from the Scriptures that God is always at work around us. God pursues a deep love relationship with us and invites us to enter into his work with him. Regularly spending time with God—through Bible study, prayer, worship, and fellowship with other Christ-followers—is key to knowing and doing his will. Excitingly, the better we know God, the more we obey his promptings, the more he can accomplish his work through us (Blackaby).

Most Christian nurses understand that having a personal relationship with Jesus changes their nursing. Countless stories could be, and have been, told about God's amazing work through nurses—of experiencing God in nursing! The stories that follow share real experiences of three nurses who supernaturally experienced God in their practice. Our desire is that these stories encourage you to pursue God fully, joyfully experience relationship with him, and embrace all he wants to do in you and through your nursing practice.

A Wild Night In The Emergency Room

By Elizabeth B. Simon

It was a typical Friday night at a Level I trauma center emergency room (ER) in the New York City area. I came in to work my routine 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift after a week of physical, emotional, and spiritual recuperation at a Christian family conference. In those days, my family was young and new to the United States, and we enjoyed our long trips and fellowship with others. Unlike in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where my family had been living, in the States we could congregate and worship freely. Having been born and brought up in India, the largest democracy in the world, I was glad to live in the midst of a civilized democracy with freedom of expression and speech! I was thankful for the great opportunity ahead of me to grow in nursing.

I walked in to the ER humming a hymn and happy to see my colleagues after a week away. I was assigned to triage that night; triage and the cardiac crashes/code blues were my most frequent assignments. Except for being in a solitary room surrounded by a large crowd in the waiting area, I loved this fast-paced work, with its quick decision-making opportunities and the ability to influence the ER work flow. Only full-time nurses were assigned to the triage room. My heart cried at the evening's chaotic situation. The triage register had a long list of unchecked names, the waiting area was full of impatient patients, and I noticed the empty nurse's seat. The nurse manager apologized that my day counterpart had to leave. But I had no time to grumble—I swung into action with a week's worth of stored-up energy.

There I was, calling names through the microphone, assessing, stabilizing, sending people for labs or X-rays, or telling patients to wait here. If I sent them to X-ray or labs based on my assessment, the ER waiting time would be reduced. When the provider saw the patient, all supporting documents would be ready. I was swiftly clearing the list.

A SHARP STICK

Then a man came in with abdominal pain and visible lesions of Kaposi sarcoma, a sign of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS). I needed to be careful, yet move fast. A quick assessment showed he needed lab work—complete blood cell count, chemistry, prothrombin time, and a partial thromboplastin time. I grabbed the purple, red, and blue blood tubes, a 20-cc syringe, and a needle. It was not a Vacutainer; it had no safety lock. I drew the blood quickly, but there was no time to get rid of the needle, open the stoppers, transfer the blood to the tubes, and replace the stopper. So I took the easy way; holding four tubes in my hand, I used the needle to transfer the blood and save time.

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Alas, somehow the needle went in to my thumb through the glove! I said, “Ouch!” and the patient jumped from his seat, asking, “Do you know what I have?” Realizing the gravity of the situation, I calmed him down, saying it was my mistake and not his. I went to the sink, squeezed the blood out from my finger, and started washing with betadine. I saw all my future plans—the joy of a young family, of being in a free country—flowing down the drain in scary red color.

Then a sense of peace surrounded me. I heard a clear, audible still voice within me saying, The blood of Jesus cleanses better than this! (“this” being betadine). That's all I needed—an assurance that nothing would happen to me. The action of not being careful, not following the protocols of safe practice, was foolish. I was acting in good faith, due to the zeal of the work and the enormous load of pending triage, but I made a mistake.

The nurse manager and the supervisor arrived. The nurse manager declared my right to go home after completing the incident report; however, the supervisor begged me to stay because she could not assign another registered nurse (RN) in the triage area. The ER was already short-staffed this Friday night, and we anticipated patients with gunshot wounds arriving late in the night, as usual. The supervisor assessed that I was in a stable mental condition to continue working and that, when the ER work flow was settled, I should write an incident report and get a medical evaluation. I agreed! After all, I had heard a supernatural voice assuring me of divine protection! The nurse manager gave me a short break. Then I was back in action. I did my work without further incident until 2 a.m. Now I was ready for the incident report and the medical evaluation—officially the next day.

The ER physician insisted that I take azidothymidine (AZT, Zidovudine) for six months; all my nursing colleagues supported that recommendation. Now that the ER was calm, everybody surrounded me with a strong voice for AZT. I weighed the side effects of AZT—hepatotoxicity, gastrointestinal irritation, possible pancreatitis, central nervous system manifestations (such as asthenia, dizziness, fever, headache, malaise, seizures, paresthesia, somnolence), severe bone marrow depression, lactic acidosis, myalgia, cough, wheezing, and skin rashes. Not one system is spared from side effects of this nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor that inhibits the replication of HIV. On the other hand, not taking the drug is a violation of hospital protocols in the interest of individual rights. I had to make a decision: to follow the protocol of the hospital advocated by the experts around me, or believe the voice I had heard that changed my despair to delight. I believed the still small voice was the potent voice of the omniscient God. I remembered the Word of God in John 10:3-4 (NIV): “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” I took the medical evaluation form and signed my refusal of AZT.

BELIEVING GOD

When my husband arrived to pick me up in the morning, I told my story. He sat shaken, frozen, and speechless, without starting the car. Finally, he said, “And this is our reward for coming to a free country?” My explanation of the voice of God did not make much difference to him because he did not hear that voice. It was only secondhand information for him. More detailed evaluations and suggestions by the employee health department followed in the same direction. More people lined up to push AZT, along with my family, but I remained unwavering. Any cold, sore throat, or tiredness was viewed with suspicion. I doubted periodically with my brain and believed with my heart, or the other way or vice versa, I do not know.

Two more incidences of needle stick injuries occurred with my colleagues during that month. I do not remember whether they took AZT or not. I am not recommending that nurses or providers not seek treatment for exposure to HIV. I am simply sharing my story of God speaking to me. I never developed HIV/AIDS.

Years later, when appropriate opportunity arrives, I share the story of that memorable night in the ER, both in liberal institutions and in evangelical Christian colleges. Students in a liberal environment take it in breathlessly, whereas Christian college students respond comfortably. Whatever reaction I observe, I am overwhelmed with God's love, his care and comfort whenever necessary, his grace for our mistakes, and his never-ending promise of healing and protection. I learned to trust his still small voice!

The Power of Prayer

By Ryan Hodges

Several years ago, a mother came to our emergency room (ER) and later was admitted to the hospital. Due to her worsening medical condition, she could no longer take care of her dependent son who accompanied her. Her son was in his early 20s and developmentally delayed; his mental disability prevented him from being able to care for himself. We could not find any family or friends available to take care of him, so as his mother was admitted, the son remained in the ER.

I had few but meaningful encounters with the patient and her son. The son was verbal and pleasant but unaware of his situation. His primary nurse and I discussed a plan of care for him, and I learned he would be transferred to a skilled nursing facility (SNF). Most SNFs are set up for geriatric patients who require basic medical treatment and skilled nursing care. The primary nurse and I concluded this would be a less than optimal setting for him but were not aware of other immediate options.

I sensed in those moments that God wanted me to pray for him. While standing alone in front of the medication station, I held my hand toward him and prayed. I prayed out loud that he would be transferred to a place where God wanted and needed him to be. This gesture was private and not seen by the patient, the son, or my coworkers. Nursing literature calls this act an intercessory prayer, an active form of prayer that seeks an outcome for another (Ameling, 2000; Stang, 2011).

To my surprise and delight, an hour later our social worker found an opening at a group home that specialized in young adults with developmental needs. This news gave me overwhelming hope for this young man! It also gave me insight on the purpose and power I have available to me through prayer.

CONTROVERSIAL PRAYER?

My desire to strengthen my faith occurred after I became a nurse. Working as an ER nurse has given me the opportunity to act on God's calling: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me...” (Matthew 25:35-36, NIV). Praying for this patient and her son may be controversial (i.e., see Puchalski & Ferrell, 2010), particularly as I performed the action without consent. I did not know the patient's and son's personal beliefs or faith, nor did I know if they would have wanted me to pray over the son. I would argue that my prayer was not disrespectful of his beliefs and did not require the patient or her son to knowingly accept my prayer. I also believed the words of James, the brother of Jesus and early church leader in his epistle: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15, NIV). This Scripture highlights the action of offering the prayer in faith, not the action of receiving the prayer.

I realize I did not personally find the group home for this patient, which was the work of our social workers. However, I believe God used me and the Holy Spirit to bless that young man and intervene so he could be transferred to a better place. This experience has empowered me to pray more often with and for my patients. Sometimes I ask patients if they want to pray together, but other times I will pray silently or later at home without the patient's consent.

If you feel uncomfortable providing spiritual care interventions, you are not alone. In 2013, McSherry and Jamieson found that nurses commonly have uncertainty and fear regarding the boundaries between spiritual beliefs and professional practices. Nursing research lists many personal barriers in providing spiritual nursing care, including nurses viewing spiritual needs of patients as a private issue or pastoral responsibility, and nurses experiencing embarrassment, discomfort, or uncertainty with their spirituality (McEwen, 2005). In a survey of 445 mostly Christian nurses, Taylor et al. (2018) found that spiritual care was infrequent.

Prayer will never replace healthy lifestyle choices, medications, or lifesaving surgeries. Most of the time, praying doesn't bring instant healing, and it doesn't usually change a person's situation quickly, as it did with this patient. I see prayer as a part of the healing process, not a quick fix intervention. Praying is never going to be a topic of administrative meetings in my department; it is not objectively measurable, nor will it become a quality indicator. Nevertheless, my faith is important to me. I encourage others to think about how their faith influences their practice.

Growing My Faith

By Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner

Randy was admitted to our unit with a diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder. He was hypermanic and agitated. He had been admitted earlier in the day, and his government-issued Identification Card (ID) had been lost somewhere between being picked up by police and admission to the hospital. Randy could not pick up his prescriptions, disability check, or pay his rent without his ID card.

He started shouting, “Who's my nurse?” right after shift report, as we tumbled out to the floor and started assessing patients. I took a deep breath, walked up to Randy and told him I was his nurse. He moved close to my face and started yelling at me about his lost ID, a fact not mentioned in shift report. I took a step back and told Randy I would investigate after I made my rounds. But after five minutes of following me around, hollering, I decided Randy needed me to be present with him. Immediately. We try to give patients boundaries, but this situation was escalating. I stopped, asked Randy to sit with me, and focused on my patient.

Randy talked brashly, cursed, and waved his arms as he told me the story of being picked up by the police, taken to the emergency room, and transferred to behavioral health. He was furious about being admitted and livid about the lost ID card. I tried to offer soothing words and reassurance. I also told him he could not keep walking around yelling at everyone. I promised him I would check into the lost ID as soon as I finished my rounds.

His agitation continued to escalate, so I went to check his prn medications for an antianxiety agent. I brought the medication back and asked him to take the pill, telling him it would help him relax, but not make him sleep. He refused. I said, “Randy, you can't keep walking around yelling. How can I help you calm down as I look for your ID card?”

To my surprise, he bellowed, “Do you think God knows where my ID is? Nobody else does. Maybe we should ask God to find it!”

I wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic so I flashed a prayer, asking for wisdom. I asked Randy, “Would you like to pray and ask God?”

He shouted, “YES! Right now!”

I softly prayed, “God, we need your help. Please show Randy that you care about him. Please help fix this situation.” As I prayed, a part of me thought, I'll contact social work and ask them to work on obtaining a new ID card. Another part asked God to restore the ID, but I didn't believe the card would be found. I didn't want Randy to be disappointed with God, as well as hospital staff who had lost the card. I prayed silently, Okay, God, help me know how to help Randy.

I told Randy I would check back with him in 20 minutes. He angrily said, “Ask that security guard. He took it from me!” A security guard was standing at the nurses' station and heard Randy. He rolled his eyes and said they had been looking for the ID card all day, and he was not going to look anymore.

I timidly asked, “Well, could you look in the patient safe (where we keep valuables) one more time? Take your time, and I'll tell Randy you're looking.” I had to coax the guard, but he said he would “try to remember to check the safe” the next time he was in the security office. I figured he wouldn't look, and I'd have to come up with the next plan of action with Randy.

SMALL MIRACLE?

Fifteen minutes later (I looked at my watch!), the guard walked up, waving Randy's ID card. Astonished, I asked, “Where on earth did you find it?”

“I wasn't even looking,” he said. “But as I was going through another patient's valuables envelope, there was Randy's card.”

I grabbed the card and ran toward Randy, waving it in the air. Before I could say a word, he grabbed my shoulders, hugged me, and cried. Tears came to my eyes as I pondered this miracle of the lost ID card. I'm ashamed to admit that I was more shocked than my patient at this sweet miracle. I sensed Jesus speaking his words from the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not worry about your life.... Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air... Are you not much more valuable than they? ...“O you of little faith....” and “Ask and it will be given you...” (Matthew 6:25-34, 7:7-8, NIV). I rejoiced as I realized God answered our prayer. God answered our prayer!

“Nurse, do you think God loves somebody like me?” Randy asked.

I grinned, “Yep! I sure do!” Later, Randy and I had a good one-on-one session, educating him about his medications and planning for his discharge. Encouraged by what he called “God's little miracle,” he asked if I knew a church “that accepts people like me.” I wrote down the address and phone number for a downtown church that offers meals, Bible studies, and serves people with mental health issues.

I don't know if the ID card showed up miraculously in the other patient's sealed valuables envelope (the guard said he had earlier looked through patient envelopes), or if the card was there all the time and was missed earlier. I don't know if Randy went to the church or what happened to him. I do know God showed his sweet, tender care for Randy and for me. I'm asking God to help me trust him more.

References

Ameling A. (2000). Prayer: An ancient healing practice becomes new again. Holistic Nursing Practice, 14(3), 40–48.
Blackaby H. (2008). Experiencing God: Knowing and doing the will of God. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
    McEwen M. (2005). Spiritual nursing care: State of the art. Holistic Nursing Practice, 19(4), 161–168. doi:10.1097/00004650-200507000-00007
    McSherry W., Jamieson S. (2013). The qualitative findings from an online survey investigating nurses' perceptions of spirituality and spiritual care. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 22(21/22), 3170–3182. doi:10.1111/jocn.12411
    Puchalski C. M., Ferrell B. (2010). Making health care whole: Integrating spirituality into patient care. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.
    Stang C. W. (2011). Is intercessory prayer valid nursing intervention? Journal of Christian Nursing, 28(2), 92–95. doi:10.1097/CNJ.0b013e31820e6c06
    Taylor E. J., Gober-Park C., Schoonover-Shoffner K., Mamier I., Somaiya C. K., Bahjri K. (2019). Spiritual care at the bedside: Are we practicing what we preach? Journal of Christian Nursing, 36(4), 238–243. doi:10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000570

    Name has been changed to protect privacy.

    Keywords:

    Christianity; miracles; nursing; prayer; spiritual care; supernatural

    InterVarsity Christian Fellowship