The demands of our job, the knowledge we must acquire drive us to achieve something known as "Critical Thinking". This is defined as the mental process of active and skillful perception, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of collected information through observation, experience and communication that leads to a decision for action. One does not graduate from Nursing school with this tool fully formed; experience in the workplace, further knowledge obtained and a solid degree of personal confidence will move the new nurse towards that goal.
But what of critical Feeling skills? That is another thing altogether. I know that I do not have the words to lay out the recommended steps required to become an empathetic caring individual but I will say that when the tears started falling, the sobs and wails cried out, I headed for the door and called upon someone else to handle that.
But there is another type of feeling - perception that is not taught or is little discussed in the realm of Nursing education. Perhaps when cultural topics are addressed there may be discussions regarding different spiritual practices, "pagan" beliefs, a use of amulets or items of power (the Catholic crucifix for example). To add to that, a belief of spirits, angels, demons and what have you very near to us while remaining unseen. Could all of this be possible?
Now consider that the first telephonic spoken word was transmitted electrically in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell. Certainly, the engineering was complex but millions of people were not believers. Some would say that now in 2023 our understanding of the universe is “light-years” ahead of 1876, but that was only 150 years ago. Quantum science has demonstrated that two elemental particles can and do communicate with each other across vast regions of space, so why is it so difficult to accept the possibility that there is a spirit realm? I propose that is because science has not yet developed instruments to measure these kinds of things and as such, I will keep an open mind about it all.
Nurses and Doctors are right to keep some of their observations “unknown” in respect to things of a paranormal nature. We don’t want to be labeled as quacks or fools; however, over the past four decades of my career hundreds of patients, family members, elder relatives and friends have admitted their belief of a spirit world. In fact, most modern religions are steeped in spiritualistic unprovable phenomena. When we interview our patients & families, we are advised to keep an open mind and not to judge. Let us all agree that is a good idea and open our own minds to vast possibilities that are not yet measurable.
For the record, I witnessed a person (DNR status) come back to life after thirty minutes while being flat-line, pulseless, not breathing and declared dead by an MD. This was in an ICU in a regional medical center in southern California. That man was later discharged home in an improved state. I suspect he had some help getting back his heartbeat. Incidentally, he suffered no neurological deficit. I felt rooms become icy cold for no apparent reason and sometimes associated with the death of a patient. And also at times, where the patient expressed there were demons terrorizing them
I witnessed patients who indicated they were talking to dead relatives that were present in the room. I did not argue with that because it was obvious I had not been granted that privilege. A case in point: In our Coronary Care Unit we had a patient that had end-stage heart and organ failure and was designated as DNR. She knew her life would soon end and she stated that her Uncle and other dead relatives were in the room and telling her it was time to go. Some current family members would visit and tell the patient to stop with her crazy talk and all the while tell the patient that she was going to get better and soon come home. (now, that was truly crazy talk). At some point, the dayshift nurse encouraged the family to go to lunch so that “Mom could get some rest”. About five minutes after the family stepped out, the patient went “flatline”. Now this was a kind of thing that I observed a number of times too, where the family effectively prevented their loved one from moving on to the next realm of life. Afterall, billions of people do believe in an Afterlife and I can accept that as a possibility.
All of this has been a lead up to a patient experience I had in May of 2008. The patient I was assigned to had developed rather suddenly a cancer that affected her heart. There was no cure, therapy or surgery that was going to interrupt this end-stage condition and she chose to die when it would come. I knew her just 12 hours and when she departed, with family at her bedside and me at the door, I felt a sensation like a cool breeze puff past me the moment she died.
See the Angels
"If only we could see the angels taking her away"
I heard those very words, when I was present the other day,
When that good woman died at the end of her shortened life
She'd been a loving mother, she had been a wonderful wife.
I can't say that I knew her
We had the briefest of introductions,
I can say that I cared for her
Because those were my instructions,
And during those few hours of care
Her spirit, I came to know,
Such that I can tell you truthfully
I felt her spirit go.
If only we could see the angels
Taking her away,
I didn't see them but they were present
When she departed yesterday.