My work as a nurse is fulfilling, but it’s also often saddening. The sadder parts for me is the realization of my limitations. I have a hard time accepting those limitations because often; I feel that it is all unfair. Disease and death are the two most difficult things for me to accept as the inevitable part of our human existence. It has become even more difficult since I do not actively have a belief system I subscribe to. When I was a Jehovah’s witness, the promises in the bible about a day when there will be no more sickness and death were my favorite ones:
Revelation 21:4: “…he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
The above scripture and many like it brought me such comfort. I could always refer to them when I felt the crushing hopelessness of the human condition overcome me. While being empathetic is a good quality to have as a nurse, it has to be tempered by acceptance of our limitations as caregivers and healers. I can only do so much. We can only do so much. And the acceptance of those limitations is even more imperative when we’re dealing with incurable, chronic, progressively degenerative or congenital diseases. I rarely see miraculous recoveries rather, disease progression is usually predictable.
Preventable and reversible diseases are a little harder to come to terms with. One of my role as a nurse is as an educator. This is one of the more important roles in my career, yet one I feel I’m least successful at. This is because my patients are usually sick and in the throes of sickness, being a caregiver, healer, comforter etc. is usually what’s needed. In those moments, my education about smoke cessation, diet modification, increased physical activity isn’t usually as effective as it might have been if they weren’t so sick.
I remain passionate though about providing education on preventing or reversing preventable diseases. This was my biggest motivation for starting a coaching business. I‘m hoping to be more impactful at educating folks before they get to me in the hospital. The problem with this though is that oftentimes, as seen in this article I wrote, people often couch fatphobia as “education.”
Fat people are usually unfair targets of health education as though only fat people are at risk for preventable diseases. The diet industry has made billions convincing people that being fat is the worst thing you can be. This makes people associate health with physical appearance. As though skinny = healthy and fat = unhealthy whereas this cannot be further from the truth. This narrative is what I want to change. Heart disease, diabetes, immobility associated complications etc. affects both skinny people and fat people. Any night, I have 4 patients and chances are they are all average sized. Fat-phobia is rampant amongst medical professionals. It is not uncommon to find nurses whispering to each other about how patient in room XYZ is “huge.” With such prevailing biases, how can they provide the education needed without discrimination?
I know I can do it and I’m determined to. Selfishly, it’ll make me feel better about my contribution to the human race, but more than that, my experience has taught me that most people who come to the hospital on a recurring basis for the management of preventable chronic diseases wish that wasn’t the case. Rarely do I come across a patient who when faced with the consequences of an unhealthy diet, or smoking or lack of adequate physical activity didn’t wish that things were different.
There’s a lot of sensitivity in my online health and fitness circle with teaching folks about healthy nutrition and adequate movement (and for good reason) for fear of seeming prescriptive or fat-phobic. These sensitives notwithstanding, I think it’s imperative that the education happen. Not from a place of moral judgement or fat phobia, but from a loving place. Not from a skinny-focused place, but from a health at all sizes point of view. Also with the recognition of the role access or lack thereof of mental health care plays in people making the habit changes they want to.
I think it is a good thing to provide a smoker with heart disease resources to help them quit smoking. To encourage the 60-year-old who is losing their mobility that a 30-minute walk 3 days a week will be beneficial at staving off permanent loss of mobility. To educate the single parent struggling with making ends meet with quick, affordable healthy meal-prep options.
And the list goes on and on. But the key in my estimation is to teach and educate from a place of love and not hate. From a place of our health or lack thereof shouldn’t be the measure of our worth or respect from others. That we are good enough today- as is.