It happened one day when I was feeding a very elderly woman with just a little bit of dementia. She wasn’t very interested in having a conversation, but I just knew that somewhere inside of her was some wisdom. You don’t make it to your 90’s, or suffer any great illness without learning some stuff along the way!
So I asked her, “what would you share with me in my 50’s as the most valuable piece of wisdom you have learned over your lifetime?” After a considerable amount of time, she finally told me to stop feeding her dinner, and move on to the dessert – a great big piece of chocolate cake she’d been eyeing since her dinner tray arrived.
Genius! I remember laughing out loud and saying what a great piece of advice that was! It was as if we were cut from the same cloth! And from then on, whenever I’ve gotten a good amount of time to sit eye-to-eye with an elderly or very sick patient, I ask that very same question. Sometimes, I write that advice in my journal at home, and other times I just get a good chuckle. The elderly and those who suffer from illness just seem to know some things the rest of us don’t.
“If you were to share just one piece of wisdom with me that you’ve learned throughout your lifetime, what would it be?”
Well, I’ve gotten all sorts of answers from making sure I make a point of it to wear my pearls and my perfume, to never losing my sense of humor, and dozens of other nuggets of wisdom from my most wrinkled and arthritic patients, or from those who are fighting illness hoping to make it to those elderly years.
But today took the cake. Today I had the opportunity to sit face-to-face with an elderly gentleman, with an impressive career and a well known name, (and I only know this because I happen to know this)! You’d never guess that he is as wealthy and well known as he is by his appearance. His loafers looked old and worn, he was dressed quite modestly, he was very patient knowing that I was running behind and he’d have to wait a bit for me to help him. He didn’t act the least bit entitled, he wasn’t demanding, or condescending, or rude. He was, in fact, quite the opposite, and his eyes were some of the kindest I’ve ever looked into.
We chatted a bit and then I dropped my request for some wisdom in my life. He smiled, and I could tell he didn’t have to think very hard at all. He took my hand and said, “never think too highly of yourself, and never, ever, ever forget from where you started.” He went on to say that “success and pride are like kissing cousins, and when you catch yourself feeling a little too proud, it will distance you from others.”
I wasn’t surprised at all by the quiet confidence of his response, or the humility in his thoughtful answer. I could tell he remembered well where he had started. I felt so encouraged by his words, and I believe that encouraging me was exactly what he had hoped to do.
Long after my patient left, I kept thinking of what he shared, and about those in my life I admire the most. They are, in fact, much like him. They find opportunities to encourage others. They don’t look down their noses in condescending ways at those who haven’t achieved what they’ve achieved. They build and lift others up instead of cutting them down, or pointing out their faults. They don’t boast in their achievements (because they don’t need to). They are more impressed with integrity than they are in portfolios, or net worth, the make of their vehicle, or the square footage of their homes. They’re kind. They don’t talk badly about people; instead, they change the subject or point out something lovely about them. They’re generous. They’re inclusive. They don’t know everything about everything all of the time. They don’t talk too much. They listen, and they listen well.
For more reasons than I can tell you, I love being a nurse. Today, this particular patient reminded me of so many of those reasons, and I am so grateful for this encouraging encounter today.
As I near the end of my nursing career (a few more years left)… I hope if you’re a younger nurse, you have your own sweet little habits that make you cherish your career as much as I do. Here’s a few of mine…
I sit down. I hold hands. Don’t worry about time. God has a way of stopping it long enough for you to enjoy and encourage your patient. (Don’t believe me? Try it.)
I pull my mask down and show my patient what my face looks like. (I just told on myself right there, but I don’t really care). I ask for some wisdom. I play thumb wars. I tell jokes (like, “it was so hot today, I saw a dog chasing a cat and they were both walking!). I give hugs, pray, cry, pray, laugh, share books, share some of who I am, pray some more, ask about their families, play tic tac toe on a napkin, try to remember their children’s names, and I do what I say I’m going to do. I freaking love being a nurse! And I don’t care if any of those things make me have to stay a little bit late. Cuz I know that making them laugh, or letting them cry, and really giving a hoot might just make all the difference in someone’s day. And I ask for some wisdom. Cuz nobody gets old (or sick), without knowin’ some stuff!
Every now and then, nurses, we all just gotta pull down our masks and make a few funny faces or stick our tongues out at our patients, cuz after all… laughter IS the best medicine!
And in the words of my wise patient today… “Never think too highly of yourself, and never, ever, ever forget from where you started!”
“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” Proverbs 3:7