Nurses are like religious brothers

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by Brother Ruel V Bancoro SVD

Brother Ruel V Bancoro SVD is a Divine Word Missionary who hails from the Philippines currently works in the SVD missions of Kenya-Tanzania. He is a medical doctor and a nurse by profession before becoming a Divine Word Missionary brother.

Let us talk about being a Nurse and being a Religious Brother

Brother Ruel Bancoro SVD during a Religious Brothers Workshop (Nairobi, Kenya) 
April 13, 2019 with Br. Peter Tabichi, OSF- winner of Global Teacher Prize 2019

Nurses are like Religious Brothers. At least in my case! When I was a nurse, relatives, friends and seemingly concerned patients would ask,”you’re just a nurse? When are you going to be a doctor?” When I decided to be a Religious Brother, relatives, friends and seemingly concerned seminarians and parish workers would ask, “you’re just a brother? When are you going to be a priest?” 

I realized early on that nurses are on their own hero’s league. I learned so much from being one. I learned how to read non-verbal cues from people. I learned that what people chose not to say is, most of the time, more important than what they say. I learned that what is important is relationship. I learned that time spent with a patient is next to none. A nurse can hold the hand of a frightened child and appease at once. A nurse can lessen the sadness of an elderly who’s been waiting for a family to visit. I learned how to explain to the relatives over and over again what the doctor had already said, knowing well that relatives just need to feel that their patients are not mere charts, that they are not mere bed or room numbers, that their lives don’t matter less. A nurse can relieve one’s anxiety, pain, discomfort and even boredom. A nurse can set a dignified death for a dying patient, console the grieving family and make them feel that in her, they have an advocate and an extended family member. A nurse can be a caretaker, social worker, counsellor, spiritual director, massage therapist, guard, waiter and clown at the same time and will never be compensated enough.

Like any other nurses, I felt tired, stressed and overburdened. But I would never exchange it for anything! The lessons I learned from being a nurse were the foundations I brought with me when I became a physician and eventually a Religious Brother: to be empathetic, to be sensitive but detached emotionally when needed, to be patient and tolerant but eager to stand up for a cause, to be forgiving and to be generous until it hurts. It taught me how to deal with the world outside of myself, to become a Brother, a mother, a father, a friend to somebody else.

For those who knew David Letterman, I was fond of his daily night shows until it wrapped up. Looking back, I think I was the only Filipino in Tampa Bay Area, Florida who would risk being caught by cops for flying beyond speed limit just to catch the Late Show with David Letterman after an evening shift. On February 2000, Letterman returned to his live show after several weeks off from having quintuple heart bypass surgery. Everybody was looking forward for his monologue at the start of the show. His emotional speech was full of gratitude for the people who took care of him. He started to introduce the medical team who attended to him. First, he introduced the doctors, his primary physicians and those in specialised field: the internists, the anaesthesiologists and finally, the cardiothoracic surgeons who operated on him. David had them all lined up for everyone to see and appreciate. At the end of the line was a nurse and everyone watching that night can tell how David’s demeanor changed when the time came for him to introduce her. With such emotions inside him, he narrated how the said nurse, Anna, was the one who was with him during the difficult days of recuperating post operatively. She would come in even on her days-off and lift his spirit up, talking about going an extra mile. She was also the one who gave him a bed bath, talking about how she got to knew him personally. She obviously had a great impact on him. He called her his hero.

For me, Religious Brothers ought to be like that. We participate more with the daily living and dying of those who are entrusted to us to serve. We do the most simple and most uncomplicated task of just being with others. Even being ignored or taken for granted at times is a saving grace for at those moments when no one is paying attention that we are left alone to serve silently in our own little ways. The theology of being a Religious Brother is a theology of just being with others, of being inclusive, of living with those in the margins, staying with them until it hurts and, even when it requires to give a good bed bath.

Here’s to all of you, my fellow comrade nurses, those I’ve known and worked with, Filipinos or not, here or abroad. I am proud to be counted among you. May I remind you how we are kind of mutated species, in case you do not know yet. We are able to work for 8 or 12 hours straight without much sitting down. We are capable of sniffing our meals in less than 5 minutes even though surrounded by fumes of body fluids and excreta. We are able to see, smell and feel what ordinary others can’t. We are able to dodge hundreds or even thousands of stressful situations as skilfully as any Marvel super heroes. We can insert an appropriate tube in any body orifice. We turn patients every 2 hours as a habit and able to recognize the slightest change in the color of patient’s behinds. We can calm down a frustrated doctor over the phone on one ear and take the lashings of patient’s relative on the other ear. We knew which doctor arrived by the sound of their heels. We knew why the light over Room 210 is lit up again! We are able to bag a deceased body and manage to push it well-concealed on a nice cart so that others who share the elevator with us would not know that we are heading to the morgue. We can move a 400-pounder patient as effortlessly as a team while updating ourselves with the entertainment news and nation’s current events. We are the mutated ones. We are in the business of saving and caring and making a difference in someone else’s lives. And we do it, non-stop, every single day.

Happy International Nurses Week ya’ll!

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