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The value of compassion

A journey to nursing

Zaviska, Joelle M.

doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000549720.61573.40
Department: Student Voices

Joelle M. Zaviska is a nursing student at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

The author has disclosed no financial relationships related to this article.

NURSING HAS BEEN MY calling since the hospital that once cared for me in my most vulnerable state became my safe haven. I grew up in a home that involved a lot of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. I admitted myself to a psychiatric hospital in Minneapolis for the first time when I was 18 years old, seeking help for depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. I went through many extended hospital stays, an experience that left me feeling scared and alone. In one instance, I did not have a home to return to after being discharged. Instead, I slept in my friend's car in the middle of a Minnesota winter.

I eventually found myself at the Melrose Center, known at that time as the Eating Disorders Institute. This facility, then on the eighth floor of Park Nicollet's Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minn., became my place of surrender. It was the place where I had to finally stop fighting myself and all the hateful things that had been said and done to me. I had to seek a different life. I found hope there.

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Highs and lows

I applied for a job in the staffing office at Methodist Hospital, a decision that changed the rest of my life. I remember standing at the bus stop while getting the job offer. I cried. My life was finally changing. I was going to provide a stable home for myself.

I spent nearly 8 years working at Methodist Hospital. At first I felt like I was an imposter being given “insider information,” which security would one day discover and escort me out of the building. That never happened, of course. Instead, I became part of the team.

When I relapsed with my eating disorder and was once again a patient on the eighth floor, some of my coworkers were the ones watching me eat, weighing me, and watching me urinate—this was the most humbling part of all. But that experience made me realize how much I had grown. I no longer saw the eighth floor as a frightening place, but as just another unit in the hospital. The individuals who worked at the hospital were not only coworkers, they were members of a very large family who supported each other through life and death.

My best friend, a nurse who also worked at the hospital, called me one evening to tell me her daughter had just been killed in a car accident while going back to college. The whole hospital grieved with her. Many of her coworkers went to her daughter's funeral to show her that she was not alone. When I delivered my son later that year, that same nurse was standing by my side as my son came into the world.

Healthcare communities are places of healing. They are places where lives come together in the most profound ways; places where lives are forever changed.

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Learning from adversity

These experiences drove me to nursing school and helped me develop the resiliency to survive four semesters thus far. I have managed to balance 15 credits, nearly full-time work hours between two jobs, and the everyday job of being a mother to my 5-year-old son.

Having to adapt to my circumstances earlier in life has helped me develop a fundamental resiliency I would not have if life had been easy. It has also given me a deeper understanding of some of the very real situations that our patients face daily.

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From patient to caregiver

During my clinical experience, I practiced some of the therapeutic communication techniques we learned, which included active listening. Listening is one of the greatest therapeutic tools we can use to help our patients. When someone is struggling with mental illness or a serious socioeconomic issue such as homelessness, it is common for that person to feel shame and unworthiness. One of my intentions as a future nurse is to show my patients compassion and understanding, and to give them the chance to be vulnerable without fear of judgment.

Nurses not only care for their patients but also show them they deserve care and that they truly want to help improve their quality of life. It is my dream to be a part of that process—to care for others and hopefully help improve their quality of life, both physically and mentally. I am grateful for the knowledge and skills I have learned thus far, both in nursing school and in my personal life. My hope is that the integration of the two will allow me to evolve into the nurse that I want to be and ultimately the nurse that my patients want and need me to be.

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