Early on the morning of my surgery, I was hurried to a cold, sterile X-ray suite. I needed one final diagnostic test just before a life-changing mastectomy. I was fearful, unsure of what lay in my future. All I wanted in that moment was a warm and caring connection, a gesture of support. But what happened only deepened my suffering. My technician did not even offer her name or an explanation of the test. Nor did she offer pain medication for this unanticipated painful procedure.
This devastating experience with a caregiver was, sadly, only one of a number of encounters during cancer treatment that left me feeling depersonalized. More than this, I found that health professionals often did not acknowledge the suffering that my family and I were experiencing. Too often, we felt isolated in our pain and anxiety. Fortunately, many caregivers and friends did understand suffering's toll and offered us compassionate presence during our darkest days. They gave us hope that we could cope and that I could experience healing.
As a nurse and nurse educator, I have witnessed suffering on many levels with patients and their families, as well as with students struggling in a demanding nursing program. Yet, not until I encountered my own suffering with breast cancer—magnified by additional painful issues in my family—did I clearly understand the hidden nature of suffering and its demands on a person's life, as well as on the family.
These personal revelations of the nature and power of suffering opened my eyes to the enormous need for greater understanding and acknowledgment of its presence in our lives. Walking my own suffering journey revealed to me the urgency of sharing this experience with other professionals and professionals-in-training who could benefit from these compelling lessons.
God challenged me to take steps to apply these personal lessons in my role as a nurse educator.
As a result, I developed an interview project to help students understand suffering more fully. Using this project, in turn, led to a teaching/learning model that informs education on the nature of suffering. The teaching tool and the corresponding model are well supported, first, by research in the field of caregiving and, second, by a research study completed by our author team of three interprofessional educators. The study evaluated learning outcomes following the implementation of the interview project with nursing students.
Learning how to respond to suffering is a significant challenge for healthcare providers. Our article, “Entering into Suffering,” summarizes the interview tool and also presents a Gospel story that is biblically based.
We share this Pedagogy of Suffering Model in the hope that it can teach, inform, and inspire nurses and other health professionals as Christian healers.
--by Barbara Brabend, with Rebecca Gaudino and Anissa Rogers
Read the full article, “Entering into Suffering: Becoming a Transformed and Transforming Healer,” free from Journal of Christian Nursing, Jan-Mar 2017. This article provides 1.5 CE contact hours. Become a member of NCF and receive Journal of Christian Nursing as a member benefit throughout the year.