Role as a Nurse/Life Helper in a Long-Term Care Facility
Nursing in a long-term care facility would be the prescription for burnout and depression for many people. And yet, it is an essential activity in the current society. There are ways to approach the profession, however, that help explain its purpose and also allow the nurse to place his or her activities into a context at once useful and conceptual. There are traditions from almost every philosophy and religion that point to the same things; the value of service, humility, compassion, and transcendence all arising out of the desire to do good works (nursing) and the will to create the skills necessary to do those works.
A knowledge of some of these is essential to place the activities of nursing into a scheme that will give the best result possible for all concerned, the nurse, the patient, the patient's family and friends, the community, the region, the state, the nation and the universe, ultimately. Once the precepts regarding the nature of nursing, the nature of service, the nature of compassion and the nature of transcendence are brought together, it is not necessary to prescribe specific acts that will cause value; the specific acts will arise naturally from the interplay of intelligence, knowledge, humility and a desire to serve.
Choosing the profession of nursing
If one has chosen one's profession properly, one will believe that it is two things, the best possible profession on a personal level, and a profession of essential benefit to at least one other person. By choosing nursing, one has joined the ranks of society's caregivers, which seems to be an essential function, more so when society is in a state of upheaval which anyone who ever reads a newspaper knows ours is now and has been for many years.
Nurses seem to enjoy the enviable position of being regarded as still worthy of the public trust. (Hegevary, 2002) At the same time, of course, there are all the news stories but nursing shortages and how that condition makes true nursing care almost impossible in some respects in some areas. With early discharges from hospitals, some people are even asking whether nurses are all that necessary, despite the regard we are apparently held in. But fortunately, the work of Linda Aiken and others has shown clearly that patients have better outcomes when there is good nursing care. (Hegevary, 2002)
There is more research being done on the specifics of how good nursing care matters. But perhaps it would be better to link nursing care to the rest of society's needs, and also to link it to various world views from the major religions, to see how very much nursing matters to a world in upheaval, and how very much it is at the foundation of community, the interconnectedness that even physicists are now finding exists between all things -- people, animals, plants, the sky, music, tenderness, dancing (of people or molecules), feelings, concepts
As a nurse in a long-term care facility, I find that I encounter everything a person can feel, want, do, hope for, suffer from or despair of. In the middle of all that, it is sometimes difficult to overcome one's own reactions and carry on, giving the care that changes outcomes. Granted, sometimes the outcome will not be changed; people die. In that case, it seems to me, it is all the more essential to give good nursing care because, at least on this plane of existence, that is all the person has. To fail to do that would be a failure of immoral magnitude under those circumstances. So, nursing in a long-term care facility requires a good hands-on technique, good knowledge of the art and science of nursing. But it also requires something more: it requires a knowledge of how it all fits into the universe. To achieve that understanding, it is necessary to look at how many of the world's religions and philosophies view the underlying concept to everything a nurse does: the meaning of life.
Relationship: a popular concept revisited regarding nursing care
In nursing, there has been an assumption that the relationship of nurse to patient is first to establish trust, then to perform the care giving work, and ultimately terminate the relationship. This works, nominally, in the long-term care arena because the relationship will be terminated. But in long-term care, despite its finality, the relationship is often, and should be, more organic and dynamic. While trust needs to be established very quickly in most nursing relationships, (Patusky, 2003) in long-term care there is more time. While this doesn't mean trust should not be attended to immediately, it does mean that the relationship has a dynamic, and levels of trust may increase incrementally.
Moreover, while in most situations, people will trust others with one or another aspect of their lives, in a long-term care setting, the patient will come to trust the nurse for just about everything in his or her life, from medication to a loving touch on the hand, to running interference with meddling relatives and more. In this sense, then, the nurse is a servant of many communities -- patients, medical personnel, family, and often even bureaucracies involved in patient care, from insurance to government office.
In addition to easing anxiety and enabling patients to secure necessary elements for survival and companionship, "interpersonal relatedness influences brain development and neurotransmitter and hormonal regulation (Seigel, 2001)" (Patusky, 2003), meaning that the nurse has a very real means of making the quality of life for his or her patients better than it might otherwise be.
While all this puts an extra burden on the long-term care nurse, the situation also affords the long-term care nurse something other nurses almost never get: time to create and built all the relationships that will result in a better life for the patient. Moreover, recent studies have found that nurses consider vulnerability of patients to be an essential foundation of their ability to connect with patients in a meaningful way. (Patusky, 2003) That this is inherent in the long-term care situation gives nurses unique opportunities to make a difference in their patients' lives and the lives of their families and communities, but also makes it imperative that the nurse approach these vulnerabilities from a position of thoughtful, and elevated, moral ideals.
Comfort as the goal
Creating comfort -- whether through administration of medications, developing rapport or any other nursing skill -- has long been considered a core value of the profession. "Comfort is a dimension or component of dynamic processes, experiences, and concepts such as quality of life, hope, control, decision making, and reconciliation (Arruda, Larson, & Meleis, 1992; Cameron, 1993; Larson, 1987). Pain control is used often as a proxy for 'comfort,' and pain is used often to describe discomfort." (Siefert, 2002) Before continuing a discussion of the value of nursing in a long-term care setting to community, and to a nurse's responsibilities within that setting, it important to note that in the long-term care setting, comfort may often include pain control that goes far beyond 'discomfort' relief and to what one might describe as the quality of mercy. And still, at times, all one can do is not enough. And then it is important for the nurse to know that all that can be done has to be enough, and that as long as his or her professional responsibilities have been tended well, then the result -- whether temporarily less than optimal for the patient -- contributes to the improvement of the state of the world in general. But it all begins with applying the nursing process responsibly.
Regarding a philosophy of service; first things first
Applying the nursing process" is a term that is often used in studies of nursing and in nursing texts. But here, it can be applied in a much more far-reaching way, to mean applying the principles of nursing and its process to creating something of value to individuals and community. It would take a nursing textbook to explain to people how the processes of nursing are to be performed, but it takes only an interest and inquiry into the philosophies behind nursing -- behind all 'interventions' into the lives of others -- to demonstrate the value of those processes to the community, but which I mean the local community, the state, region, nation and ultimately, in fact, to global peace.
Care giving is basic for global peace; in my view, it is the polar opposite of hatred and war.
None of this by itself will convince others to enter nursing and help solve the shortage. But it might. In any case, it may help others to understand the place of nursing in the major scheme of things -- not simply as a valued and respectable/respected profession -- and that alone might conceivably change the world. I propose this on the basis of the old 'butterfly' story; that when a butterfly flaps its wings in…