A Call to Empathy - A Letter from Bethany
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My dear Sisters,
As women, there is an undeniable tug on our hearts to love. How we each express this is as numerous as there are women on the earth & in history. While society tells us to turn this love only towards ourselves - I say reach. Spread your fingers as wide as they will go - though your hands may be small, let them never be callous.
Our Lord Himself will fill in the gaps.
It is in these moments when we raise our heads, tear our eyes from the mirror and leave our cool, yet so very chilly selves behind, that we are found. For me, it will always be the patients...
It was a very busy shift at the hospital, I hadn't had lunch and I had been sprayed with most kinds of bodily fluid (moms out there, I'm sure you can relate!) and the 12 hours were drawing to a close. Freedom and a bath were in reach. My patience was wearing thin and showing on my face. I had a mix of very sick and very needy people. I was more than a little agitated that I couldn't give care, the extra little things to the very sick because the call bells were ringing from the other patients' rooms.
Just as I was wondering where the heck the day shift nurse was, my phone rang. It was the charge nurse calling to tell me that the oncoming nurse was stuck in traffic. "Can you stay?" She asked. Inside-self was squirming - you deserve to go, that hot shower and sleep...
In my heart, He asked, "Can you give a little more for the the least of mine?"
"Ughhh, okaaaayyyy," is usually my gut reaction. That little stomach fluttering when you know - this is what you must do.
It is in those little moments that he gives us the strength for one more. I walked into a new patient's room, a smile barely plastered on. As I stood in the doorway, I was struck by a wave of empathy.
I looked with fresh eyes at the scene before me. An elderly woman, confused and upset. "I've wet myself! I can't get up!" In that moment, I was giving away His love.
He had given his stubborn vessel the holding capacity for one more of His own. If I had known at the beginning of the day what He would ask of me (as with many of us, I'm sure) I would have never gotten out of bed, but little by little, He asks of us. And he fills in the gaps.
Get to know Bethany
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
My name is Bethany Marie Gabriele, a 23-year-old night shift emergency room nurse.
What do the first two hours of your day look like?
The first two hours of my day usually begins at 4pm... getting ready for work, my younger brother is just getting home from middle school. As I pack my lunch the day we talk about what he did in school, his school play, mock trial and the science fair. Then my mom comes home and we talk about wedding developments and I spend a little time with her. I don't have to get up this early for work, but this is my last few months living at home before I'm married and I will miss these seemingly mundane but sweet moments. I also wrote a little “Daily checklist” that hangs on my mirror that I try to read every “morning” before leaving. It reminds me of my most common weakness, reminds me of what kind of nurse I am striving to be and how I should be preparing for my vocation.
Then I drive to my fiancée's apartment and we make dinner/breakfast together. I love cooking with him and we talk about his day and my previous shift. We usually say our prayers together and I head to work, usually praying a divine mercy chaplet for the patients I will have and the staff or listening to audiobook. I enjoy this time spent with family and quiet reflection while driving because it fills me up for the sometimes long night ahead.
Describe your favorite part of your current occupation.
I get to see and do a lot of cool things at my job, cool things that I often have to sensor among my non-medical friends. But despite all that, my favorite part of the job is in the midst of the high-intensity situations where the team of nurses, techs and doctors are fighting for the patient’s life, praying for the patient's soul. I don’t know when the patient’s soul leaves their body, I know certainly that because we can control the body in many ways medically, it gives us a false sense of “being in charge.” By engaging in that spiritual battle where I know we have won, I try to give those traumas and codes back to the Lord and ultimately it is His will that is in charge of that room, Him calling the patient Home. Praying during these high-intensity situations gives me the energy and courage to keep doing compressions, contribute to the plan of attack or to seek a moment to leave the room and update the family. Bringing comfort to them by explaining the chaos happening to their loved one is something you can only really do with the Holy Spirit to give you just the right words.
Describe one fear or personal challenge that keeps you up at night.
One personal challenge/ fear I have is becoming apathetic, or lukewarm and callus towards the suffering I encounter at work or with my own family and loved ones. Because I know what dying looks like, I can pretty readily tell someone they are certainly not. But that isn’t what we are called to do. If I am only empathetic to the actively dying, that is most of the world’s suffering belittled and brushed away. I am working on always seeing a suffering person with fresh eyes, and try to minister to what their real needs are.
Tell us about the first time you experienced a strong sense of belonging in the Catholic Church.
When I was a young girl of four or five I remember at mass feeling a swelling, rushing, fluttering feeling in my little heart during Mass when the congregation sang the great Amen. Hearing all the voices come together to make something as beautiful as our response to the Mass has always inspired a sense of belonging. The knowledge that not matter what parish I visit, the Mass is always a steady pillar and I am participating in something much larger than myself.
Tell us about a woman you look up to.
A woman I look up to would be one of my Nursing Professors, Professor Catherine Recznik. Never have I seen a woman so on fire and passionate for nursing and for the healing of others. Professor Recznik would let nursing students go to work with her in the ER (she worked on weekends despite being a nursing professor) and I saw in her what nursing should be. She also is the one who set the example for me to pray for the patients on the way to the hospital and to pray for charity on the way home. This is what keeps her from burn out I believe because she also leads the medical simulation part of the department (an up and coming field in the healthcare world), goes on mission trips to Nicaragua with students and is completing her doctorate in nursing. She could have excelled in medical school and been a very successful doctor, but “like spending time with patients too much to do that.” She is the opposite of apathetic.
Favorite character ever. Go!
Jo March of Little Women, Little Men and Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out, for sure. My impulsive, hot-tempered, rather unconventional friend turned into a beautiful woman, full of her own kind of grace, covered in children, still rather unconventional, blessed to be frugal and always up for a good romp. She speaks to my soul ;)
* Please note that this letter & these answers were written earlier in 2017. Since then, the author has been married & turned one year older!