Reflections on Caring, Curing and Healing

As this is my 40th anniversary in nursing, I have been reflecting upon what it is to be a nurse.  Nursing is still an art and science, but it is not a career for everyone.  There is a fine line between helping someone in pain and taking on someone else’s pain.  Empathy was the cornerstone of my early hospital training as it helped our nursing class to better understand and respond to a patient’s situation, concerns and pain.  We were also taught that maintaining good personal boundaries was important, so that we didn’t enter into a rescuer relationship with anyone.  It was pointed out that if we tried to “fix or rescue” someone, it was our need, not the patient’s need, that was being triggered.  This is not the true focus of the therapeutic relationship – it is meant to focus on the patient’s needs.  We were not there to Fix a patient;  we were there to Care for a patient.  Care with all your heart, without losing yourself or harming the patient.

There were always patients who tugged at your heartstrings more than others.  There were always patients who mirrored your family and friends – both those you loved and those you didn’t.  There were patients who seemed to have the same life experiences and situations as us.  We were taught that as nurses, we would need to be even more mindful of our reactions and responses in these situations.  The psychology folks call this  “transference – counter-transference”.  And so the lessons on caring versus fixing (or curing) became real.  Some days it was easier than others to remember and carry out this lesson.

Some things have changed over time.  Our society is becoming more high-tech and low-touch.  Yet during times of stress, illness or impending death, there is still a place for respectful, supportive, caring human touch that technology just can’t duplicate.  A hand on the shoulder, a gentle hug, a smile, a soothing massage or simply holding hands in silence can convey more support or understanding than any emoj or tweet could ever hope to.  When the touch is genuine, there is a message of loving kindness sent that can set the stage for comfort or healing to occur.

In her book,  The Blossoming Heart, Dr. Robbi Zeck describes the difference between healing and curing.

”  … Healing involves education, re-assessment, changing many of the conditions under which we are living and re-examining the structure of our lives.  In time, I came to understand that if life is holding us back, we may need to question our habits, desires, behaviours and even our relationships. 

Healing requires that we keep on examining everything until we find our own truth and discard everything that clutters our lives. Clutter comes in many forms.  The unseen clutter, lurking hidden in our psyche, can be the most difficult to shift.  clutter of the mind can include worry, concern about what others think of us, negative thinking, needing to be right and focusing on things that aren’t really important.  … Our minds and our bodies benefit from periodic sorting and sifting through what is important.  This can be a positive step towards embracing stillness and “time to be”.

Curing, on the other hand, aims to restore a person to function or wholeness after the onset of illness and disease.  Curing addresses toxins, invasions, degeneration, endotoxins and so on.  Healing enables us to find resources that allow us to celebrate life, despite illness and disease.  Healing pushes us towards a wholeness that is a process as well as a creative response.  We can have a disease and not be ill. We can be ill without having a disease. Illness can also be about spiritual discomfort;  it can cause illness.  When not connected to our spiritual path we are unable to utilize our spiritual resources.”   p.35

In my 40 years of nursing, I’ve come to understand that doctors cure, nurses care and the process of healing belongs to the patient/client.  My role, as I see it, is to offer care for the body, mind and spirit so that the patient/client can engage in their healing process.  I will continue to use empathy, support, respectful touch, prayer, health information, holistic modalities, meditation, art and science to help others achieve their highest health and healing potential.  Ultimately the act of healing is their work.  But the act of caring is mine.  That aspect of nursing will not change for me.

Article written by Pat Antoniak  Registered Nurse – Registered Aromatherapist and owner of the Natural Comfort Wellness Centre in Tsawwassen, BC.


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