The Business of Dignity

If there’s one thing that gets me fired up it’s dignity, and specifically when dignity is stripped from another person. I’m a people person. I’m a caring person. I’m a person who does everything she does with her whole heart. And it’s beautiful and exhausting all at the same time. But I want to talk about dignity today…

At the James last year I had a patient who old, like 80ish, and he was dying from cancer. His discharge plan was hospice care. My job as student nurse was to get this patient bathed. The week before I’d had a younger patient and she had been in the hospital for a couple weeks, she was almost ready to go home. And she had a routine of how she did her daily bathing stuff. One of the things she did was sit in a shower chair at the sink. I really liked that. I just had to help her get her legs and her back. It gave her power and control over her self-care. So I decided to this with my old man. However, I set him up in the chair and gave him and wash cloth and wet and soaped up and he looked me and asked me “What do I do with this?”. This man has had someone bathing him for so long that he couldn’t remember how to bathe himself. He spent 20 minutes just scrubbing his face! My mind was blown. In that moment I knew part of my mission for the rest of my life was going to be helping preserve and restore dignity to my patients.

In that moment I didn’t realize how much this would affect the rest of my life. This semester I’ve had many opportunities for clinical that have allowed stereotypes to be broken for me, and with that, an ability to see people as people, and to see the dignity and worth they have despite what they have done.

I have been on the psych unit all semester and that has been a game changer in me seeing people living with mental illness as people and not as their disease. However, it’s more common in the medical field as a whole to see people as their sickness rather than as a person. Or to see them as our “to do” list rather than as the person that they are.

The next opportunity was in the prison medical facility. I was super nervous going to the facility and into the different units. But I very quickly realized these men and women are men and women who have made mistakes, who are broken, but who still have dignity worth and just want someone to talk to.

My most recent interaction was at the VA. I was shadowing in the Urgent Care Center, which functions as their emergency department and a patient came in with a nose bleed that had been going on and off over the course of 3 days. He was also HIV positive. The patient kept making cracks about himself being ugly. And you could tell he was truly ashamed of his disease. The perception I got was that he felt like less of person, and that broke my heart.

Thanks be to God, I’ve never had my dignity stripped of me by a disease. I can’t recall any time I was treated as less of a person. But I know that every day people are stripped of their dignity. And it breaks my heart.

I want to see a change. I want to see a change in our culture. I want to a change in our medical field. I want to see a change where we start treating people as people. I want to see a culture that restores and builds up people. I want to see people not afraid to be judged when they share the ways they are broken. I want to see people seeing themselves as they gift they are to the world. Each of us has something to teach each other that no one else can. I want to see victims of rape, sexual assault, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse realize they are not what has been done to them. I want to see people recognize their worth and what they deserve. I want to see a culture that builds each other up, not tears each other down.

I don’t what this looks like. I don’t know how this is going to happen. I don’t exactly know why I’m writing this… but if you’re reading this and you feel like your less because of something that you have done or something that has happened to you – that’s a lie.

You are worth more than words can express. Your smile lights up a room (even if I don’t know you, I know this to be true because every smile brightens up every room). You have a beautiful soul. You matter. I know there are days when we feel like we don’t matter and the world wouldn’t notice if we were gone. Those feelings are false. You matter. You are important. Your opinion matters. Your passions matter. Find what makes what you come alive, and run after it.

Let’s make a change. Let’s empower one another to do what we thought was impossible. Let’s build each other up and call out the gifts that we see in one another. Let’s preserve one another’s dignity and remind each other that we are valuable.

 

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