Sometimes, when a soldier Briony was looking after was in great pain, she was touched by an impersonal tenderness that detached her from the suffering, so that she was able to do her work efficiently and without horror. That was when she saw what nursing might be, and she longed to qualify, to have that badge. She could imagine how she might abandon her ambitions of writing and dedicate her life in return for these moments of elated, generalized love.

–    from Ian McEwan’s Atonement

“What are you taking up?” one of the panelists in my first workshop asked me.

“Nursing po, sir,” I answered.
“Really? That’s good,” he said. “At least you have something else to write about.”
I was in second year college back then, and it was the first time that I viewed nursing not just as a means to get rich, but also to fulfill my insatiable literary aspirations.
I never dreamed of becoming a nurse. Back in high school, I never thought of myself as a professional in the health care field. It may be apt to say that I was a victim of the sudden demand for nurses. Everyone was literally into Nursing, believing that it is the best way for one to migrate to greener pastures. Hence every graduating student (and even professionals) thought Nursing was the most sensible thing to do.
That was why the realization that hit me during second year can be likened to Gollum’s discovery of “The One Ring” in the Lord of the Rings. The fact that I could still write as a nurse was a delightful diversion for me. As a Nursing graduate, I could fill up a hundred pages just writing about the different people I met in the hospital, whether it be a patient, doctor, nurse, or even a clinical instructor. Each person has his own story to tell.
There was this one patient I got who had cancer of the bone even if he had been living a healthy lifestyle all along. “Hindi ko nga alam kung bakit ako nagkaganito e. Lagi akong nag-e-exercise, kumakain nang tama. Wala rin akong bisyo,” he told me then. His wife was already close to tears.
Then there was also a patient whom my group handled for six weeks. On day one, he was really very weak, but at the end of our six-week shift, he was ready to be discharged already, and could not thank us enough for taking care of him. He even invited us to his house in Bulacan, giving us specific instructions on how to get there.
And there are also the inevitable deaths. How does it feel to take care of a patient today, only to see her bed occupied by another patient the next day? “Namatay siya kagabi e,” the staff nurse would tell me. “Kawawa nga, ang bata pa naman.” Or see a patient on the road to recovery, only to find out the following week that she died because of a clot in her lungs, something that could have been prevented through proper nursing care?
Indeed, there are so many stories to write just by looking around you. And that panelist from my first workshop was so right by saying that the hospital is a rich source of inspiration.
Ironically enough, I have not written a single thing about hospitals or even my patients. I could write about how difficult it was for this woman to have four miscarriages and not a single baby, or how this nurse was reprimanded by the doctor for giving the wrong medications that could have cost the life of an eight-year-old girl, but I never did. It was not out of confidentiality or anonymity, for I do not even remember the names of the patients I handled. Perhaps it is because I never really found the right words to encompass the emotions that these real people have. The story that I could make out of it seems too trivial compared to the real thing.
It is not the knowledge or skills that made me appreciate Nursing–it is its human dimension. It is amazing how a nurse can find pleasure in taking care of an individual she barely knows just to see him recover and resume his normal way of living. The most fulfilling thing in Nursing, for me, is to have a patient hold your hand and thank you for taking care of him.
The verse above, from the novel-turned-movie Atonement written by Ian McEwan, struck me the first time I read it. I see myself in the character of Briony, a frenzied writer wannabe who sees inspiration everywhere and does not stop writing. We both took the road to Nursing–she as a penance for her crime, and I for pragmatic reasons. And though Nursing was not what we really wanted, we both felt some sense of fulfillment in it, not because it is a paying job, but because it is a noble job–it is upholding the dignity of the sick and the dying, and finding pleasure in doing so.
And what achievement it will be if I am able to capture these feelings on paper, and to share with everyone the beauty of this profession. But for now, this is as much as I can do. The right time will come.
I will wait.

Montage Vol. 11 • September 2008


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.