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    The other side of nursing

    By remembering why she became a nurse and helping those less fortunate, this nurse has finally found the fulfillment she'd been looking for.


    When I was asked as a little girl what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would immediately answer, "A vet or a doctor." I loved animals and helping people. The need to help eventually led me to choose nursing as my profession.

    At first, I worked at a Youth Authority and then at a pediatric hospital for 10 years. But I always felt a need to be doing something more.

    We often think of nursing as giving meds on time, checking an X-ray to see if the doctor needs to be called, or taking an admission at 2:00 a.m. with a smile on our faces. Too often, we forget all the other things that make our job what it truly is—caring and having a desire to make a difference.

    A search for fulfillment

    I decided to travel on short-term medical mission trips. I worked with the Lummi Indians in Washington and went to the Philippines where I helped street children and provided care in three orphanages. Then, in December 2004, the tsunami struck. I called my agency and they immediately set up a team to go to Sri Lanka.

    In Sri Lanka, the devastation was overwhelming. We arrived three months after the tsunami, so, for the most part, the people's physical needs had been well met by all the other relief organizations that flooded into the country. They had fresh water, housing, and food. What they didn't have were their parents, their children, or their spouses—the thousands of lives that were taken from them.

    Making a difference

    We were there not to administer medication for their bodies, but healing for their souls. We listened to their stories. One man told us how he had been forced to make a split second decision when he and his family had been caught in the wave and he had managed to wrap himself around a tree. His wife and his 3-year-old child clung desperately to him. With little strength left, he had to decide who would live and who would die. He released his wife's hand and she was immediately pulled under the water.

    Another man just down the coast had managed to climb a palm tree and watched with helpless frustration as his neighbor frantically ran with her child in her arms and was overcome by the wave and washed out to sea.

    Then there were the orphaned children. We met one 3-year-old child who was the only surviving member of his family. He had been found wandering on the beach three days after the tsunami. Since then, he woke up every night screaming. He'd stopped talking and hadn't played or smiled since the event. So what we did for him and the other children was play. We brought balls and Frisbees, and we showed them how to paint. They'd forgotten how to play with all the grief surrounding them. By the end of the day, that little 3-year-old boy smiled and laughed for the first time in three months!

    Having an impact

    Recently, I took another trip, this time to Naga Hammadi, Egypt, with 15 other doctors and nurses. We set up a medical clinic where we saw more than 1,000 patients in a two-week period. One patient who stood out was a 16-year-old girl, Fatma. She was covered from head to toe in a black burka, but underneath she weighed just 45 pounds. Her father brought her to us hoping that somehow Western medicine could help her. After almost an hour of translated conversation, we weren't able to offer more hope than his country could provide. She suffered from anorexia and refused to eat. Her country didn't allow her to be admitted against her will to a local hospital for treatment, nor could she be forced to get a G-tube. Without help, she would be dead within the month.

    It was so difficult leaving that day knowing we hadn't been able to accomplish anything for Fatma. After all, it was our job to help people! The next day, the pastor at the local church came to tell us that Fatma's uncle, a militant fundamentalist, had called to tell him how overwhelmed he felt by the love and compassion that we had shown his niece. Although we might not have been able to do anything for Fatma, the impact we made on her family was encouraging!