...are the ones that make the biggest difference


The shadow

I was at the gym earlier today and while I was working out, I started listening to a lecture by NT Wright given at Open Forum on his recent book Simply Christian. In the opening remarks, Bishop Wright makes a point about the shadow that hangs over our existence. Even when things are working out perfectly, which they often aren't, there is always a shadow hanging over us. Be it death or the inevitable disappointment that things aren't quite as wonderful as they first seemed, there exists a certain hollowness in all of our endeavors that is engendered by the inevitable march of seemingly infinite time. He raises the example of a person who loves music, particularly the works of Bach or Beethoven, who deeply desires the opportunity to study the work of these masters in college. But as these studies unfold, the magic of the music is lost, its engaging mystery fades and the once-ardent passion is blighted, sometimes taking years to regenerate, if ever. I think that accurately describes my own feelings towards nursing at the moment.

With the start of this semester, I am struggling to find the draw that propelled me so forcefully through the previous three. My new job is, I think, one of the reasons for this dwindling motivation. I now work in a surgical-trauma intensive care unit as a student nursing assistant. This job not only pays more, but affords me the opportunity to practice many more hands-on nursing skills. With appropriate supervision, I assess patients, chart their condition, administer medicines, hang IV's and review labs & diagnostic procedures. I get to see the stuff I'm studying first hand. And I'm discovering that this work is very different than what I thought it was. It is quite challenging at times, with some patients requiring constant vigilance and activity to keep them from going bad, but in many situations, the work is actually quite tedious. We administer drugs, we monitor for complications, but their doesn't seem to be many opportunities to develop relationships with the patients or their families. There isn't much of a chance to alleviate fear or to offer support. Part of that, I'm sure, is due to my own lack of knowledge and experience in this setting. I can't tell a family member that things are looking up or that the patient is making improvement because I honestly don't know if they are. I don't know if certain complications are normal or extremely worrisome. I don't know enough to be able to offer an opinion that is worth anything. And while I know intellectually that this will change, that my knowledge and experience will grow and that this will afford me more opportunities to engage the human elements of nursing that I love, that day seems very distant right now. Right now I'm slogging through the entirely mundane elements of school and learning, focusing on the little details of conditions, medicines, charting, etc, that, when added together, make for a strong nurse, but when taken individually, as I am forced to at the moment, are disheartening and dull.

In a way, I know this is good. I am learning more about myself, more about what kind of nurse I want to be and what setting I will thrive in. But right now, looking at the calendar of 3 more semesters of long, hard work, it is a heavy weight.


Reluctant Saint - The Life of Francis of Assisi

I picked up Reluctant Saint at a used bookstore because, frankly, I had a lot of extra credit with them and needed to use it before they switched to a new system. It looked good, so I picked it up and put it on the shelf to read at some future point. Which I finally did over the Christmas break. Having read it, I would now gladly have paid the retail price for the book.

Spoto, who is apparently better known as a celebrity biographer (his subjects include Audrey Hepburn and Hitchcock, among many others), has also written The Hidden Jesus, in which he calls Jesus the "man no one knows." From that simple statement, one can get a sense of his more liberal theological views, which, thankfully, do not assume a bully pulpit in Reluctant Saint. For the most part, Spoto is willing to let the simple and devout faith of Francis explain his actions without interjecting his own interpretations. Spoto does offer his opinion from time to time, but generally his views offer only a slightly skewed look at what most faithful Christians would overwhelmingly support. There are bits of dross to be picked out, but the remaining substance has clearly been influenced by the amazing life of St Francis.

And Spoto writes well. His prose is clear and engaging, painting a very intimate portrait of a deep, troubled and holy man. He deftly sums up details and arguments that could easily grow tedious to the casual reader while clarifying the issues and showing how they were relevant to the involved parties. All in all, Spoto recreates a very present Francis, tracing through his conflicted youth, to the first inspired steps of a beggar-saint, to the reluctant and eventually rejected leader of a movement that would have a far-flung and lasting impact. I would highly recommend this book if only because the life that inspired many thousands of others to forsake all in pursuit of living the Gospel is still so very inspiring.

I have to admit that Francis' commitment to poverty and simplicity of life & action is something that is just as necessary and relevant today as it was during his lifetime. In a society of conspicuous consumption, where for many what we own defines who we are, what greater challenge to the world can there be than someone who intentionally rejects the pursuit of stuff? And having rejected all that the world says we so desperately need, goes on to serve those that the world has rejected and the One whom it rejected, and does so with quiet joy? I think it is that last point, the joy, that is actually what is so challenging about Francis. He was wracked by physical illness, frequently rejected by the world and eventually rejected by the very movement he founded, his personal hopes and dreams (I never would have guessed Francis made a failed effort at participating in a Crusade!) lay unfulfilled and yet he lived and died devoted to and joyful in his Lord. And it is joy that the world truly covets. Contentment & security is what drives the consumption machine either in an effort to mask the profound sense of alienation and fear that permeates the world or to alleviate it, if only for a few moments.

And Francis unequivocally, unambiguously states that there is no joy to be had in things, indeed, in the very pursuit of joy itself. Joy is a by-product of a life lived against the grain of the world. This is very challenging to me, not in the least because Francis' life of poverty does not lend itself to caring for a family. How do I take the lessons that Francis teaches and apply them to my own life?

13 days

Today marks my first day off in, you guessed it, 13 days. We had a little trip home to Arizona which inadvertently overlapped with the first day of school. The day after we got back (on the first day of class - that'll teach me not to double check a school start date before booking tickets) I started 2 days of clinical orientation, then 4 straight days of work to make up for the hours lost while we were in Arizona - and for which I have no PTO since I just started the job - then 3 days of class/clinicals, then more work until my first day off in 2 weeks. Which has been spent in blissful inactivity.

This semester should be much more manageable than the last, thankfully. Only 1 class instead of 2, and I started a new job in a student nurse program at a nearby hospital. I'm working in the surgical-trauma ICU which has already provided excellent hands-on experience and learning opportunities. The nurse to patient ratio is always 1:2 or 1:1, and I basically follow one nurse and do whatever he/she needs me to do. As I progress through school, I will be more or less given the less intense patient to care of almost independently while the nurse oversees me and double checks my assessments. While this work is much more challenging mentally, it is less physically demanding than my old job which had me hopping to take care of up to 11 patients on any given night, so I've been less tired. And I'll be able to pull 2 twelve-hour shifts instead of having to work multiple days of doubling up on class & clinicals, so things should be a lot less intense this semester.

Which will hopefully allow me to achieve my goal of posting at least once a week on either Sunday or Monday, which will be my 2 days off. I'm wanting to be a lot more consistent and this semester, I shouldn't have too many reasons not to be.