Tag Archives: nursing

The Lessons of an Innercity Hospital – God Loves Us All the Same

Blog - Grady Hospital - by unclepockets - Flickr Grady. wikimedia.orgPhoto Credit: UnclePockets, Flikr: Grady, Wikimedia.org

For seven years, I worked in Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital. At that time, it was THE hospital (rather than the “main hospital” of the Grady Health System) with 18 floors and 1100 beds. Grady is a “safety net” hospital, extending care to the urban poor. It’s also a Level 1 trauma center. Situated in downtown Atlanta, perched alongside major interstate highways (I-85/75 and I-20), Grady echoes with sirens sounding constantly, signaling the arrival of victims of strokes, gunshot wounds or high-speed auto accidents.

Way above the crazy chaos of the trauma center, my job took me into the relative quiet of the 10th floor oncology service. 10B was my unit, serving cancer patients in treatment or in the days of dying when treatment failed. I was the oncology clinical nurse specialist, responsible for training and assistive to nurse, patient, and family support. Many days, it was the extra set of hands that was needed the most.

What happened in that space of seven years, early in my career, taught me deep lessons about life and caring.

I came to Grady after finishing graduate school at Emory University…too young and inexperienced really for the job and the confidence given me. Mary Woody, the director of nursing at that time, gave me wise counsel. “Whatever is done for the patient, be it housekeeping or medical treatment, learn as much as you can about its delivery, and do whatever you can to serve at all those levels.”

I listened and did my best to follow her counsel.

Almost all my colleagues and our patients were African-American and urban. I was not, having grown up in a small town outside the city, in a school system only integrated while I was in high school. In the quiet moments on the unit (few but treasured), I would listen to stories unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Especially from the older ones. Stories of years living in segregation (Grady was actually built as a segregated hospital with wings opposite each other for the care of blacks and whites). Stories of years after, living in forced integration.

One day I want to write some of those stories. Having grown up in a home where my mom taught us to love without distinctions for differences, I had actually missed seeing what it must have been like for those who lived every day marked somehow by the color of their skin.

Again, I was very young during those years at Grady and drank in the stories…marveling at the courage and resilience of both my older colleagues and our patients and families. Taken aback at times, to be honest, by the clear declarations of my “shared responsibility”, being white, of past atrocities they had experienced. If I could have asked forgiveness for all of that, I would have. Instead, “I’m sorry” seemed so inadequate.

Debbie & Grady nurse buddy

There were many lessons for me in those years. Here’s the story I wanted to share today:

It was the end of my work day…as I walked off the unit, thoughts of beloved patients who might not make it to tomorrow clouded my mind. At the bank of elevators, I punched the down button. Finally, the doors of one opened, and it was packed. Often, because of how full and slow Grady’s elevators were, people would go up to come down.

Maybe in deference to my being in nurse’s uniform, or just out of the kindness of strangers, there was a push backward and a space was made for me. I gratefully filled that space. Then the other elevator occupants relaxed and squeezed me in their embrace as the door closed.

At the end of the day, everybody just wanted to get home. That tight fit continued all those floors down to ground. Me and my white uniform – all that whiteness enveloped by so many tired, black family members. Tired like me or more so. The smell of sweat and potato chips, and the heat of so many bodies, caused me to withdraw back into my own small thoughts.

As if in audible voice, God broke through that noise in my head with: “I love you all the same.” All of us, in that elevator – the poor and the privileged. We are important to Him. It is so easy to fall into our own swollen self-importance – whether it relates to position or education or any other state of being we take comfort in…or through which we isolate ourselves.

God’s heart toward us and ours toward each other – that is transforming. That can be world-changing.

Until that moment, I had felt no compassion for those surrounding me in that small space. We were squashed together never to probably see each other again once we reached street level. Yet, in that moment, at the beckoning of God to take notice, I remembered that we all matter to Him. Whatever was going on in each of our lives – bone-weariness or deep sorrow or great anticipation at good news – we mattered to Him.

God calls us to enter into the generous love He has for us and for our neighbor.

If my companions in that elevator knew my thoughts that moment, they might have pulled back a bit from me. I just wanted to turn around and take in all those faces – to bask in the radiance of His love for each one. At that moment, I wanted to rejoice with those rejoicing and weep with those who would weep beyond that elevator. I was low and brought up by their small kindness and I wanted to somehow do the same.

Was there a glow in that tiny room of strangers? There was for me.

Of course, I didn’t strike up friendships with those who nudged out after me on the ground floor at the last opening of that elevator door. We all walked out into the Georgia late afternoon sun, all together, and then peeled off to different destinations. I went on to my car in the employee parking lot – another privilege of mine, among so many.

That day, my heart opened wider to where I might fit in the Kingdom of God, and what His purposes were for us – to love Him and to love others as He sees them and loves them. The patients, families, and colleagues I loved already…and the strangers along the way.

Seeing the people, He [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. “Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”Matthew 9:36-38

YouTube Video – Grady Memorial Audio Slideshow

Love is the Final Fight – an Ode to John M. Perkins

Baptist Global Response

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself – Part 1 – John Piper

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself – Part 2 – John Piper

Your Work Matters to God: Staying on Course Through Life’s Seasons

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Being a nurse was my ambition since childhood. I would wake up from dreams of helping at some accident scene or comforting a wounded soldier fresh from the battlefield.  Those dreams, though wildly romantic at the time, actually preceded real life situations as time passed. Nursing became a platform for a career full of purpose and meaning. I completed my formal nursing education with a Master’s in Medical-Surgical Nursing, with a concentration in Cancer Nursing. My grand idea of going out and changing the world was rapidly unfolding.

Fast-forward to a decade later. Married and pregnant with our second child, I had my feet firmly planted in two worlds. One was nursing, and the other was being a wife and mom. We were living in a mid-sized town, and I was the clinical nursing specialist for a highly regarded cancer center. It was some of the most rewarding work of my life – to be a part of a great group of nurses and serving patients and families in intense situations. It was a consummately gratifying work season for me.

In fact, just as I was nearing the time of delivery of my little one, the president of the medical center called me in asked if I would consider being the director of the cancer center. It was an offer of a lifetime.

My husband did not think so. While I was intoxicated with all the feelings of approval and appreciation from that job offer (some of that could have been my pregnancy hormones), he helped me come to my senses. From the beginning of our marriage, we had worked out the values we wanted as a family. We would be judicious in our finances and he would work toward my being able to stay home with our children. I wanted this as much as he did…in the beginning. When we had our first child however, I was still so in love with my career that I managed to cajole him into agreeing with my continuing to work outside the home 20 hours a week.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love our daughter completely; I did with all my heart. Mothering and keeping a home, however, were much harder for me than any challenge I faced at work. One component of that was the whole team aspect of my workplace. We sorted out things together. I loved that. At home, far from our families, I felt very much alone with figuring out things, facing my inadequacies and insecurities at raising a child. In reality, God was always there; once I corrected my focus, I experienced Him there.

When we conceived our second child, my husband and I had re-visited our commitments to family. We had again decided that this time around I would stay home with our two precious ones. This time, I wasn’t going to look back. Then this job offer came along. My husband’s reply that I remember to this day was, “Ask him if he had a mother.”

So…I said no to that job, and yes to homemaking and fulltime mothering for the too short season it turned out to be. Not every woman reading this has had that opportunity, and I understand. What I came away with was two careers, both of which, once I embraced that each has its season, have been sources of great joy. Someone else can direct the business of a cancer center. I had the opportunity to mother our kiddos fulltime, and I’m thankful God gave me that season at home with them.