"The Jingle Bell Bum" (Read The Touching True Story...please!) Comment at patriciahanrion.com

"The Jingle Bell Bum" (Read The Touching True Story...please!) Comment at patriciahanrion.com
Still available on Amazon for Nook and Kindle, hard copy booklett to re-print November 2013

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Can I hug you?"

This week I worked two grueling 12 hour days of orientation with nursing students.  Each class has their own feel and nature.  Gratefully this cadre of kids seem eager to learn and actually listen, how nice!

I'm at a new, yet familiar, hospital (which has been purchased since I taught there a few years ago by the Sisters of Providence) so had to be on my toes to re-acquaint myself with the policy of the hospital and also with the education director, who at first seemed tough but ended up a concerned and welcoming softie.  I just hope the staff feel the same way when we show up next week and mess up their routine.

Seeing the photos of Sisters of Providence from years past in fur coats while serving in Alaska and others in boats crossing a river to care for natives on a remote island, then seeing several statues of Mary in the halls must have reminded me of a past teaching experience.  So I got into a discussion during lunch with my students about my sojourn teaching at a convent. 

It happened during the time when I was in a transition from an ICU nurse to education which was quite a while ago. I know it seems odd to be teaching at a convent, but I had a director at the now defunct Riverside Hospital who knew I liked to teach and asked me to join her group of educators during the beginnings of mandatory continuing education for Registered Nurses during the 1980's.  Every place with a long term care area of over 10 beds was required to have continuing education taught by a person with the proper credentials.  While the Mother Superior sent one of the nuns to school to acquire the necessary certificates and I had my teaching credential from UCLA I was hired to fulfill the state requirement. 

One day each week I went into Palms near Santa Monica where the high fenced facility with  ivy covered gates opened magically as I drove up the long entrance.  Right before I left my assignment teaching at the convent I was pregnant with my fifth child...and the cook, Sister Rose baked me into a chubby mom-in-waiting.  As I arrived early in the morning she had apple dumplings warm and ready for me when she discovered it was a treat I couldn't resist. She then would ask me what I wanted for lunch and seemed to be able to accommodate my strangest culinary wish. I now blame her for the 20 pounds I have never been able to shed.

Most of the Sisters I taught basic nursing aide skills were from Brazil or Peru as the Sister's of Nazareth originated in South America.  My Spanish of two semesters of beginning foreign language at Grant High School were put to the test, and grew during the two years I worked there.  At first I had a translator, but toward the end of teaching there I was able to teach CPR in Spanish.  I am sorry to say my Spanish has once again been reduced to telling a Spanish speaking mother in labor "empujar!"  (push)

My last blog entry was on my mind about possible loss of senses due to the use of technology (read...I'm not in OZ) and I was reminded of many discussions with the Nuns I became friendly with.  I clearly remember Sister Gabriel returning the gifts I had given her when she was transferred to another area.  She said her things would be searched upon arriving at her new convent and she was not allowed to have any personal things from friends or family to take her thought away from prayer or her calling.  She also confessed how difficult it was to be separated from everyone and everything she knew.

Sister Gabriel was a lovely young girl who was a novice and getting ready to take final vows in her order which maintained the traditional dress of a severe habit in white, and would be trimmed in dark blue after her final initiation.  Not long after that I was invited to the final vows of a young Samoan girl and her family came to wish her well and basically to see her for the last time.  It was a sad celebration to me.  Much like a wedding but somewhat without the joy.  There was even a wedding cake of sorts, which surprised me (I love wedding cake).  The family gave gifts to all the persons in attendance and then tearfully said good bye to their daughter who would live a life of solitary service.

"It is the lack of touch, and the training to hide emotion that is the most difficult." I was told by Sister Fernando.

"You mean I can't touch you or give you a hug." I asked.

"Yes, it's something we are to avoid so we don't form attachments and that's why we move from convent to convent within our order to avoid getting close to those around us.  It's to help us keep focus on our calling."

"But it removes you from feeling and emotion and even the compassion that is the foundation of nursing."

It is part of the sacrifice we make."

I couldn't understand and wanted to ask why?  But I knew the discussion was closed and walked down the long hall to my little office.  A few weeks later on my last day at the convent the Sisters surprised me with a baby shower and a beautiful handmade blanket.  Sister Rose was in her glory preparing a special lunch with a cake that was almost like a wedding cake as she had heard me express my favorite was that kind of desert.  She expressed her love through her deeds and actions...without human touch...no hug, no kiss on the cheek.

How must it be to never feel skin to skin, touch.  When babies are born the most important thing is to place the newborn on the mothers tummy, skin to skin contact...a measure of love, warmth and acceptance...we call it bonding.  I left the convent that day with a heavy heart.  I had learned to respect their dedication yet was sad to think the care they gave others was denied to them.

Later I taught at another school who was started by an Episcopal church and a Nun was part of the staff.  Sister Eileen wore street clothing and her "Mother Home" was back east. She went there each year for a retreat and to renew her vows...which did not include lack of touch.  I didn't even know she was a Nun until I knew her for several months...I was a bit miffed she didn't think to tell me right away and hoped I hadn't said anything wrong to her during her stealth participation in our staff discussions.  I found her to be a fun loving and dedicated woman whose "Order" was definitely more progressive than the Sisters of Nazareth.

I know today in the public school system often it is not okay to give a student a hug.  This is really unfortunate as a hug should be considered an innocent expression of comfort, encouragement, support and love, so important to the human condition. 

I don't know if at this hospital the Nuns are allowed to hug...I haven't seen one yet.  I know there  are lots of ways to give service and I'm glad I can choose to give service to my family, my profession, my students and ultimately my Heavenly Father.  But just as Christ had children sit on his knee to show he cared (and I'm sure give them hugs),  I'm glad to be free to give my husband, children, precious grandchildren and even my students....hugs!

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