I stand here today incredibly proud. Proud of those before me. Less than one year ago I sat in the hospital directors office and panicked. We wondered how we would set up a clinic and staff it with Malagasy nurses, where would we find the nurses? Where would we start? I drew a time line on the white board and we started making plans. Plans that seemed somewhat inconceivable. But I knew that just has he had been in my past, that God would be with me in my future and all things will be possible through him. After countless prayers, meetings and emails, things started taking off.
In the last weeks of May I interviewed around 50 people for a place in the OBF training program. Some were impressive and encouraging. Some were worrying, offering bribes and not really having a clue. One qualified nurse answered my question “what is a fistula?” by replying “a fistula is a tree that grows inside the womb, it grows and grows until the women dies” and so we had many interesting encounters. Many of you may think that during that interview, as you were nervous and all dressed up, that there was a right answer to all of those questions, but you would be wrong. I trusted God to lead me through those interviews, I trusted God that he would bring the right people. All of you are here because you first impressed me with either your knowledge, your outlook on life, your attitude or your efforts to speak to me in english even though you had only just started learning the language the week before. But for many of those questions there was not a right answer. I was looking at the heart behind the answer and I believe God has brought you all here for a reason.
One questions I asked you all, lets see if you can remember, was ..”what do you think makes a good OBF nurse” I explained that the patients would be emotionally distressed, outcast, smelly and I asked … “what makes you think you could be an excellent OBF nurse”. Many of you told me with confidence that you can do it. That you are trained and will work hard and that you can do it. I believed you then and I still believe you. But I think that during this time your answers may have changed. I think that now you would answer that it is not just knowing how to physically nurse a patient. It is not just how to empty a catheter or how to remove a vaginal pack, but it is more.
I hope that you have and will continue to learn that nursing is not just a science. It is not just drug calculations, fluid balance charts, vital signs or pain scales. It is about loving others, having compassion when no one else will, educating someone to save their life, carefully and tenderly breaking bad news, encouraging countless patients to continue treatment, take their medications or simply love them selves. None of these things are measurable and they are not science, this is where Nursing becomes an art.
Maya Angelou the author and poet said:
“As a nurse, we have the opportunity to heal the heart, mind, soul and body of our patients, their families and ourselves. They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
You see nursing to me is an expression of Gods love, he loves us so that we can love others, he walks with us in our biggest trials and hardest moments so that we can walk with others, he comforts us under his wings when we have nothing left to give so that we can comfort others, he makes us sore on the wings of eagles and empowers us to take bold steps, so that we can encourage others.
Florence Nightingale said this:
Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit? It is one of the Fine Arts: I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts.”
Preparing the materials required for a catheterisation, thinking through an explanation for your patient to keep them calm and carrying it all out with immaculate sterility for the wellbeing of your patient is art and science, hand in hand. And I am with Florence nightingale that it is a very fine art.
You have each shown courage and bravery during this time of training. You have stepped into a different culture, a different way of thinking, where everything you did yesterday has now been changed and modified in to something new. You have learnt everything I can possibly teach about obstetric fistula and you have done it all in a language you started learning less than one year a go.
I get excited when I see you comforting patients, encouraging patients and showing compassion as that is something that is so lacking in this world. I get excited when you get drug calculations right and when you teach other nurses what to do.
This is why i am proud.
This is not a time to grow comfortable. To stop learning. This is only the beginnin. You have been given an incredible opportunity, to learn from a state of the art hospital ship, to work with some of the most experienced fistula surgeons and nurses in the world and there is more.
The future for you is exciting. You have a chance to be the beginning of the end of fistula in your country. You can do more than nurse fistula patients, you can educate on prevention or carry out research on treatment. I have high hopes and this is just the start. So don’t stop in this war against fistula, don’t stop learning and don’t get comfortable. Don’t ever get hard to the stories you hear, those stories that break your heart and bring forth compassion are so important.
It is this that reminds us that fistula is not just a hole, it s so much more.
So think again “what does it take to be a OBF nurse”
because you are one….
You have completed the exam and passed, you have worked hard in practice and have succeeded but, I urge you to continue… continue to learn because there is always more to learn, continue to grow because there is always room to grow, and with each passing day refine the art of being an obstetric fistula nurse that cares with a love that God reveals to you and that can only come from him.