January 19, 2010

"I don't think they've ever been so clean!" (Memoirs of an Alzheimer's Nurse)

I used to be an ICU nurse.
Then, I was a cancer nurse.
Those were stress-filled, mind-exercising, sometimes-sad, many-times-rewarding days.
I am now a nurse at an Alzheimer's home and I love it.
One of my main duties is to perform foot care on our residents (Calvin and others with squeamish stomachs when it comes to feet: read no further).
I wash their feet, clip their nails, remove dead skin, remove ingrown toenails, dress foot wounds, etc. It can be quite gross, but it is also fun. I get to chat with the most pleasantly confused people ever while I work. And my work doesn't take a whole lot of brain power which is sometimes nice, but sometimes a downer.

You see, I'm not a talented seamstress, illustrator, painter, designer, crafter, knitter, or home decorator (like I sometimes long to be when I look at the incredible talent of you ladies whose blogs I love to read). Sometimes I wish I had those cool talents so that I could make things for my family or sell & advertise them via my blog.
But I don't.
And that's okay.
Because to me, "my talent" has been to use my brain and skills as a nurse to help save lives and restore health.

Now that I'm not using many of the nursing skills that I did when I worked in the hospital, I sometimes feel like I'm not doing anything great with "my talent" anymore. A lot of my friends from nursing school are delivering babies and stabilizing trauma victims in the ER. I am taking care of feet.
Last Saturday while I was finishing taking care of my favorite little old man's feet, he leaned over to examine his feet and said, "Oh, my! That takes some talent!" And I'm thinking, what talent is there to taking care of feet? Maybe you need to have a strong stomach to do what I do, but certainly it requires no talent beyond what any other person could do. And then my little old man said (over and over and over), "I don't think they've ever been so clean!"
He is so cute.

On Sunday morning, while I was thinking about how I wish I had a cool talent or could be using my nursing skills to a greater degree, my eyes met this painting hanging on the wall in our apartment:

I think I was figuratively struck by a lightning bolt from on high, because I suddenly felt very ashamed for being so proud and selfish as to desire big talents or accomplishments to show off to the world. If anyone has something great to show off, some incredible talent, it would be the Savior.
I think he could have done a lot of "talented" and "cool" things during his last 24 hours of mortality.
Instead, he washed his disciples' feet.
Their dirty, yucky feet (because I bet they were a lot yuckier than what this painting shows. I am, after all, somewhat of a foot expert these days).

And then I thought,
why should I long to do anything greater than serve my sweet little people with dementia?
Their feet may be gross, my job may not take much skill, but if any little talent, skill, or act of love is good enough for the Savior, then it should be good enough for me as well.
And now I think it will be.
It is kind of nice to know that I've made my little old man so happy because his feet have "never been so clean!"


Nathan and Rebecca Scott said...

Wow. That is a great insight; definitely something to keep in mind when we find ourselves doing what is often considered remedial work. (After all, such things need to be done, even by those of us who are artists...)

This is a great post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Nathan and Rebecca Scott said...

In fact, do you mind if I share this post with other people?

Holly June Christensen said...

Go right ahead, Rebecca.
I'm actually honored! :)

Taffy and Tony said...

I LOVE this post! Thank you so much. It reminds me of an "aha!" moment I had awhile back when I felt that my mothering was so mundane and that I ought to be doing something "bigger." I read somewhere that as a mother, I am helping those that cannot help themselves. The atonement overcomes both physical and spiritual death, something that we absolutely CANNOT do for ourselves. In this way, the things I do for my children and family are helping me become more Christlike. I often remind myself of this.

Meg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meg said...

What a great parallel! I miss long conversations with you, Holly. Let me inform you of another talent you have: you are able to take small, seemingly-mundane experiences, and turn them into spiritual parables that inspire people around you. Now, THAT's something worthwhile you are STILL contributing to the world!

Margaret said...

Speaking as one whose Grandma had dementia and received lots of care, I am grateful for people like you who did those little things to help her be comfortable and clean and feel cared for. It IS a great work - thank you! :)

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