Incarnational Nursing?

incarnationJesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this month, came to live with us. Real people saw God with their eyes, touched him, and listened directly to the Word of God. What a powerful experience!

"And the Word (Christ) became flesh, and lived among us; and we [actually] saw His glory, glory as belongs to the One and only begotten Son of the Father, who is full of grace and truth." John 1:14-15 (AMP)

Christmas causes me to wonder, what if the Son of God showed up again today? If he rang my doorbell, would I recognize him (and hope my house was clean)? If he came to my hospital, my nursing mind thinks he could heal people! Working in behavioral health, I envision Jesus walking through the huge locked doors into the severe persistent mentally ill unit and touching psychotic patients. Suddenly they are in their right mind. That would be beyond amazing. I wonder, what if…

Taking shift report, I learned that one of my patients was difficult and uncooperative. The reporting nurse said, “He won’t talk, he won’t eat, he won’t come out of his room, he won’t go to groups,” and added sarcastically, “He is going to the state hospital!” His medical diagnosis was Bipolar II Disorder. After almost a week of medication treatment he remained isolated and often was found kneeling in his room.

tweetI always asked God to give me the patients he wanted. I prayed, ok God, what’s your plan? I went to my patient’s room to introduce myself and do an initial assessment. My patient, age 32, appeared to be in very good physical condition. He avoided eye contact as I requested to check his vital signs. After a few minutes I asked, “Is there anything I can do for you right now?” He repeatedly shook his head no. I gently said, “I’m not sure I understand what you are telling me.” He looked at me briefly with a faraway, wild look in his eyes. I waited silently. “Would you like something to drink, or some food?”

“NO! NO!” he stated anxiously. “That’s okay. You don’t have to eat right now.” I waited for him to calm a bit. “Is there something wrong with the food?”

“The food is bad,” he slowly sputtered. I sensed this was not because of the tasteless mushy vegetables and went to scan his chart to learn more about him. I discovered my patient was Muslim.

Is his refusal to eat a religious issue? Muslims are to eat halal, avoiding forbidden foods and food ingredients. Our patients ate in a common cafeteria where food was shipped from the main hospital campus to our free-standing facility. Patients were quickly shuffled through a café line and unless they spoke up loud and clear about what they wanted, they were given the main food item and side dishes. A quiet person like this man could easily be overwhelmed.

I went back and asked him if he was afraid the food was not halal. He shook his head yes. I said, “I can go with you to the cafeteria and help you get your food. We can ask what is in the food.” To my relief, he agreed to my plan.

I talked with the charge nurse and to my surprise she said, “We don’t have time for that.” I checked and learned the next meal was hot dogs or pork chops, both forbidden. I thought, we can ask for something else.

I told him we would go last in the cafeteria line to not slow up other patients. When it came his turn to get food I asked the server if he could get cottage cheese or a cheese sandwich. She flatly said, “Nope. You take what we have.” I explained why this was important, and she wouldn’t budge. I tried to get him to choose vegetables or rolls, but of course, the server did not know what was in the food, so my patient would not eat. His head drooped down to his chest as he tried to hide himself.

Frustrated, I called the dietary department at the main hospital. I thought I could explain and give a nursing order for food my patient could eat. The dietician said they could not do that. The charge nurse told me to stop wasting time.

Remembering the hospital allowed outside food to be brought in, I asked this man if his family could bring him food. He told me that was not possible.

At that point, I decided to do what every good nurse would do: get a doctor’s order. I called his psychiatrist, explained the situation, and obtained a comprehensive order that required the kitchen to send food that was halal. A dietician would come and assess him.

Before I left that day, my patient asked, “You are Christian, yes?” I replied, “I am a follower of Jesus.” He thanked me and said, “I think your Jesus wanted you to help me.” I smiled, “I think so too.”

Jesus once again became flesh. Jesus in me listened and advocated for my patient that day. He continues to become incarnate to us and then, through us, to those around us.

Will you let Jesus become incarnate to you? Will you be the tangible Jesus to others?

—Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner, PhD, RN is the NCF National Director and Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Christian Nursing.

Postscript: A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a class of nursing students and unexpectedly felt prompted to share about my Muslim patient. Afterwards, a student quietly waited for me to finish speaking with others. When alone, she said, “I am Muslim. You will never know what you did for that man.” I told her I didn’t fully understand but I did believe Jesus arranged for me to be his nurse; that Jesus loved him. We talked for a few minutes about Jesus, a great prophet to her, Savior of the world to me. As she left she said, “I think I need to know more about this Jesus.” I continue praying that Jesus becomes incarnate to her.



Thank you for sharing this story! God not only wanted you to help this gentleman but also I. See I am a psychiatric nurse taking RN-BSN classes and my teacher said I should join a nursing organization. I picked 8 possiblities based on my specialty, what I wanted to do in nursing, and my faith. So they second one I clicked on was Nurse Christian Fellowship. Your blog was the first one I read.

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