"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!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Am I in Oz? I know I'm Not in Kansas, or Arizona!

We spent a wonderful week in Washington...Seattle, actually Redmond...the land of Microsoft and computer geeks.  The last few times I got on a plane I landed in the land of tan and flat landscape, Arizona....this was green lush and beautiful even if there was a bit of rain. 

One day we went by bus to the Sea hawks game and I noticed it was strangely quiet.  As each person entered the bus and sat they immediately pulled out their phone...(most had Microsoft ones) and began to browse and put their heads down not glancing right or left. 

"A convenient way to avoid human contact." was the comment of our youngest child, Michael, who is a Psychology degree graduate and is always looking at people in a analytical way.  I began to speculate what will happen in 20 years or so.

The sense of touch will begin to diminish.  Vocal cords will wither and our only communication will by by text, computer, or some other yet not invented form of information transmission.  So then, I thought, "What if energy is cut off, by some natural disaster...would people talk and actually look at one another.  Eye contact which in the past was used as a way to determine honesty and conviction will once again be instituted as a new an innovative way to know the person sitting next to them.

In past college classes I've learned that communication, (I mean words, spoken language), are only a small part of letting a person know what you want or how you feel about a subject.  Body language, tone and timber of voice, the tip of a head...or how one looks can tell another person volumes.  Do you dress differently for a job interview, or a date?  All of these factors feed into understanding one another. Or maybe that is the purpose, afraid to make a commitment, or not willing to be hurt of disappointed, friendships in the world of cyber communication will be a thing of the past.  Our clinical cold inanimate communication by text or tweet is so lacking in emotion or true understanding it is amazing to me we have allowed this to happen.

Another thing happening with communication is the way we read books.  On a phone, i-pad, Zune or other device...straining our eyes to avoid the glare so we scurry to darkened cave like areas (including our homes) so we can see what is on the screen.  No longer can we enjoy the pleasure of page turning and getting closer to the end of the book, or regretting that a good read will soon be over, No! unless you scroll to the end of the data transmitted to your device, you have no idea if the book is 100 or 1000 pages (unless you begin to measure a book in gigabytes instead of pages) and you have no idea when to anticipate the conclusion of a story. 

I love feeling the paper between my fingers, the smell of the binding. Today most book stores are closing or gone and soon we will no longer have the joy of browsing  through the thousands of written chunks of thought and the records of days gone by, remembered by one or many. (I hope my novel will be included in that wonderful medium before paper and pages are gone and passe.)

Library hours have been cut in most cities and access to resources is becoming an on-line activity. (no one buys an encyclopedia any more...When our five kids were young I scrimped and managed to put in our budget the collecting of each volume of the cheap little encyclopedia books sold at one of the grocery stores...I don't think I could ever find the index or the xyz volume) The necessity of those wonderful stacks of records may soon be gone.

I worked as a librarian during college.  I knew the Dewey decimal system and could return books to their proper places in record speed.  I loved the football mandatory study hall nights where I met my future husband Patrick who made extra work for me by checking out all sorts of literature, only to return the volumes in a few minutes so he could talk to me.

Now substituted for all of these visual, tactile and even olfactory sensations are circuits and bits contained in smaller and smaller receptacles holding the words of others.  And just think of what would happen if the downloads, power sources, instant e-mails (no one can write a decent letter anymore)  texts and happy faces and the new language of tweets and face book were to shut down?

Something to think about....