Sister Mare Melitus, Matron of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth ill London, under the care of the Sisters of Mercy, outlines the role of a Catholic hospital today .
"IF YOU ARE thinking of Religious Life and are not yet sure, it would be better to undertake your nurse training first and give yourself time".
This sound advice was given to me by the Dominican Sister to whom I had spoken about "vocation", and this advice I followed. After three years of training as a Student Nurse, and then one year as a staff nurse, again the prompting returned having been fairly successfully kept at bay during the training period! and the decision had to be made.
What did the Lord want? was it to be marriage or religious life although deep down I knew the answer. Having once, with help, decided that it was to be religious life, then the question arose, which order or congregation?
Our vocation is a greatly rewarding one. We are in a very privileged position and can help people in so many ways. We usually meet people because either they themselves or one of their loved ones is ill and they arc anxious with regard to the furore.
The sick themselves are often frightened and come to hospital or need care at home because they are no longer able to care for themselves.
The trust that they place in the sister k very humbling and we often hear the sad story of the things that have gone wrong in their lives and, for sonic, have generated feelings of bitterness and resentment.
Our being able to give time to listen and show a loving concern can help to soften that feeling and enable them to feel that they really matter to us.
People today suffer as much from not having anyone to talk to as from the actual physical illness, and it is here that we can help them so much.
In today's world we can become intent on treating the body or part of it and miss the great need for the care of the inner person. This requires a depth of perception on the part of the nurst to enable him or her to realise the often hidden psychological need of that person. The religious tutor can help to instil this idea or approach into the minds of the learners at the commencement of their training. There is also the occasion when the learners look to the tutor for guidance and counselling as they find themselves in situations and under stress and strain for which they were not prepared and to which they arc unused, and the opportunity to talk this out with the two', away from the ward situation, can be of great value.
The role of the religious sister as Assistant Chaplain in the hospital is one which has been recently developed and is becoming more accepted. In this area the sister works very closely with the hospital chaplain and with her medical and nursing colleagues. She may be part of the team at unit meetings and can act as a support to both staff and patients and their families.
The preparation of patients for the Sacrament of the Sick, for the reception of Holy Communion and the Sacrament of reconciliation can be undertaken by the sister, and usually she is also a special Minister of Holy Communion, and in this case she may bring Holy Communion to the patients and in this way reveal another dimension of the Ministry of Healing.
The role that is most familiar is that of the religious ward or departmental Sister, and the sister in training with other nurse colleagues. This particular role is a most rewarding one and as part of it the sister is looked upon to help both colleagues and patients as well as providing and maintaining certain standards of professional competence within her department.
The sister will find herselt carrying Out a variety of duties, which include the support of the nursing staff on the ward, and this requires time for counselling and listening to their problems as well as teaching them and preparing them for situations which may arise.
In the working environment, the patient and the family need a great deal of help, not just in the professional caring, but in time
given to listen to their diffuculties and anxieties for the future.
Very often it does not need a great deal said but just to take time to sit and listen, perhaps asking the occasional question, thus giving the patient an opportunity to unburden themselves of their anxiety.
For the sister who works in a hospice unit, there is the vital role as the patient and their family are facing the fact of separation, by death, from their loved ones in the not too distant future.
All active treatment has ceased in these situations and the nursing and medical care specialise in the control of pain and other side effects of the treatment.
Ours is a truly fulfilling vocation as it involves us so deeply in the healing ministry of the Lord whom we follow and who went about "doing good and healing those who were sick". One becomes so aware of the fact that we can only give what we have already received from that same Lord and so often one finds that the needs which we meet drive us to the Lord in prayer, bringing before Him those very needs.
When problems arise a quick prayer for guidance is usually rewarded with the answer appropriate to that situation! this may sound like a magic formula, but no! in working with the sick and especially the elderly and dying, we are made conscious of the shortness of time and the closeness of eternity.
So often one becomes aware of the Lord using us in a particular way He has no hands but ours and it is through us that Ile wishes His healing work to continue. This is not necessarily purely physical healing, but the healing of the wounded spirit and hurt mind.
No matter which role we are filling, our concern is to show to those for whom we care and with whom we work, some little of the love and care of the Lord for each of us, sometimes this is best done by just sitting and listening.
People will, on occasion, confide in the Sister things which they have not confided in their family or their priest and we must respect that confidence and give them all the help we arc able, remembering again that we can only give what we have received from the Lord in prayer.
Our lives then become "circles", bringing those in need to the Lord in prayer and then going out to give them the help and support that the Lord has given to us.
Truly ours is a blessed vocation and one in which we receive so much more than we can ever give.