The gems before you
Martie L. Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ
When I was a student nurse, I had a professor who said, “You will never know what gem is before you, unless you are willing to open your eyes and your heart.” Being young and excited about being a nurse, I smiled but really didn't think much of what she said, at least until I met Dorothy.
I was a young nurse, still learning and scared about making a mistake. I took every vital sign with precision. I asked all of the questions I was supposed to ask. I wanted to be the perfect nurse. Dorothy was the model patient, polite and sweet. She called me “dear” and thanked me for everything I did for her.
I had taken care of her for the last several days. I knew her vital signs, her medical history, her diet, her medications but I didn't know Dorothy. One night as I was making rounds, I noticed Dorothy wasn't asleep so I stepped into her room to check on her. I asked her if I could get her anything and she laughed and said, “My life story.” I said quizzically, “Your life story?” She said, “Dear, I lived once. I was a WASP.”
Not knowing what she meant, I smiled and asked her a few questions that got her to share stories I've never heard before. Stories textbooks seemed to have forgotten to tell — stories of Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs. She had a dreamy look on her face as she spoke about flying war aircraft during World War II.
As I sat and listened to her, I was amazed. I knew Dorothy as a retired realtor, widowed six years ago. That information I had obtained from her records. The woman before me was a gem. The richness of her life story taught me more than hours in a history class. Her courage and determination during the war were an inspiration to me.
The WASPs were not acknowledged and were forced to leave behind their experience for more traditional roles at the end of the war. (This special group of women was granted veteran status in 1977 and given the Congressional Gold Medal by President Barack Obama in 2009.) She held no bitterness as she spoke about her life. She accepted it as part of her duty for her country. I cherished my talks with Dorothy — learning not only history but also a life lesson that has served me throughout my career.
If you stop and think about the skills you were trained to use as a nurse, Active Listening Skills may or may not come to the forefront. “Active Listening,” as its name suggests, is all about active concentration on what is being said. That means, listening with all of your senses and giving your attention to the speaker. It means being able to hear what is being said verbally, but also what is unspoken but very clearly communicated through the eyes, a smile or the tension held within body language. Smiling, eye contact and leaning inward toward the speaker all convey interest and willingness to hear the person who is speaking.
Dorothy never wanted to interrupt me as I went about my nursing duties. She felt I was very busy and didn't want to be a bother. Using a technique called reflecting, I was able to encourage her to share her life story with me.
Reflecting is the process of restating both the words and feelings of the speaker. I remember saying to her, “You are very proud of your service to your country.”She responded, “Oh yes dear, I was able to help the war cause here at home.”
From there she went into what it was like to fly the planes and how she loved being in the air. This shy, quiet and polite women transformed into a captivating storyteller, right before my very eyes.
Gems are before you every day. Each person you come in contact with has a rich story just waiting to be shared. It might be through their memory, or the memory of their loved ones. When I lived in Montana, I had the opportunity to go gem hunting on the banks of the Missouri river. As I dug in the dirt, all I could see was dirt. Finally, I said to the gentleman next to me, “All I am seeing is dirt.”He smiled and said, “Be patient, gems are all around you, you just need to look for them.”
Sure enough, as I sifted the dirt away, brilliant gemstones rose to the top of the rock piles. I just needed to look for them and be willing to look deeper, to the hidden gem in front of me.
Patients are gemstones just waiting to be found. Take just a few moments to look beyond the daily routine for them. You will have riches that will bless you throughout your career.
Martie L. Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ, is the Chief Nursing Officer at Medline Industries Inc. As CNO, she develops forward-thinking, solution-driven clinical programs, as well as new products and educational services. Previously, she was the chief nursing officer at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, OR. Under her leadership, Providence St. Vincent earned its third and fourth Magnet designations for nursing excellence.