“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17, ESV). These words have informed my nursing career from the earliest days as a new graduate in rural Wisconsin where “everything” included handing out bedpans with a smile and working extra night shifts.
When I moved to Bangladesh to work in a faith-based health and development project, everything expanded: Delivering babies in the middle of the night; teaching myself to give anesthesia; training community midwives; and doing research on topics close to the heart of God, such as improving healthcare access for poor mothers and decreasing child marriage. It also included being part of a team to develop both spiritual and professional growth of Christian nurses through Nurses Christian Fellowship.
Christian nurses are a minority in Bangladesh, which can discourage expressions of faith. The Saline witness program tool is helping nurses become salt and light at work and in their communities. Saline training provides practical ideas to appropriately share God's love as nurses go about their daily work and can transform how they think about being a witness in the workplace.
One physio-aide nurse realized after taking the course that praying with patients wasn't only for chaplains. She actively listened to mothers of disabled children and offered to pray for them. Soon mothers were looking forward to her coming. She has continued to offer prayer, recognizing that it plays an important part of the family's return to wholeness, as do the exercises she teaches the mothers and the assistive devices that help the children improve physical function.
A senior nurse shared her experience of a patient with postsurgery psychosis who was placed to one side of the multibed ward because she was distraught and upsetting other patients. Mental illness is often attributed to evil spirits in rural Bangladesh, and the patient shared her frustration that “No one listens to me, instead they get mad at me.” The nurse's assurance that “I will listen to you!” was part of the healing process; the patient went home well and asking for continued doa (blessing/prayers).
For one male nursing staff, “whatever you do” includes visiting patients with whom he has built a relationship, visiting during their admission, at home, on his own time, to let them know they are cared for and not forgotten.
Sharing Scripture also can be an appropriate encouragement. When visiting a woman with genital fistula repair who was discouraged by postoperative leaking, a nurse-chaplain read the story of the woman who had suffered 12 years from bleeding, and prayed that the patient might also be healed by Jesus' touch (Luke 8:43-48). Later it was heard from relatives that her surgical repair was no longer leaking.
The arrival of COVID-19 was a challenge. All involved in direct healthcare were concerned what it would mean for themselves and their families. Many private hospitals stopped seeing patients altogether when those with COVID-19 first arrived, and later refused to see patients with COVID-like symptoms. In this context, welcoming and treating patients was a special act of caring. One nurse told of a patient who hid his positive COVID diagnosis because he had already been turned away from several hospitals. His X-ray, suggestive of COVID, gave him away, but he was kept overnight and given the appropriate treatment and instructions before being sent for home care.
The nursing superintendent of a rural hospital said that her nurses' first reaction to COVID-19 was fear, but they learned the necessary precautions and continued to work. Nurses there start the shift with prayer both for patients and staff. Their NCF group continues to meet for Bible study and prayer.
An NCF-Bangladesh leader and departmental head at a large tertiary care hospital in the capital city, which has had hundreds of COVID admissions, shared how she visits patients and prays for them individually as well as asking like-minded colleagues to pray together.
Wherever we live, whatever our age, whatever our job title, whatever the task at hand, may our words and our actions be done in Jesus' name and with thanks to him for the privilege of serving as a nurse.