180 years of nursing experience + 6 stories = one miracle
I didn’t blog last week. Co-facilitating a StoryHealers workshop in Santa Fe called Nurses Speak didn’t give me an extra second free. But it was oh, so worth it!
As Peggy Mangan, an amazing nurse with more than thirty years experience, who had flown in from Michigan for the workshop, told us at its conclusion: “The transformation was the highlight of my nursing career.”
It doesn’t get better than that!
Although I’m tempted to brag (or at least brag about my collaborator Mary Rives!), the real credit for our success goes to the nurses. The six of them immersed themselves for five days, developing their stories and preparing for the stage. The group was open, honest, courageous, and fun…and committed to supporting each other.
During the first three days of the workshop, we focused on writing and sharing our work. Mary and I listened intently to stories that were raw, edgy and deliberately unfinished. Each of the nurses went beyond the safe story that she or he might have told, to find the true story that was asking to be told in that moment.
Our job was to trust that the right stories would emerge – and not to push. That turned out to be easy as golden nuggets emerged. Through their vignettes, I learned
- How many nurses began their caregiving careers because they were thrust, out of necessity, into caregiving roles in their youth.
- How the years of stress, pressure, and dealing with heartbreaking situations can disconnect some nurses from feeling their hearts, and, even worse, lead to harsh or mean behaviors.
- How hierarchy, egos and pressures lead to big clinical mistakes.
- How the process of nursing offers both a sacred gift and an excuse, for some, to avoid caring for themselves.
- How the process of dying, with the right support, is a life-enhancing event.
On the fourth day, Mary and I shifted into our roles as directors. We aren’t professional actors, yet our job was to help our small cast of non-actors to embody their stories and bring them alive on stage.
We had a blast. Mary brought in some Laughter Yoga. I shared improvisation exercises. We coached them: “Be in your body! Pause! Breathe! Feel your words!” as they found the drama in their stories. On performance day, one hour before dress rehearsal, we were still cooking – fiddling with words, making changes on the computer, and wondering how it would all come together. Mary and I reminded each other to breathe and trust.
As we entered Santa Fe’s Jean Cocteau theatre, we weren’t sure what would happen. The group rehearsed as technicians scrambled to set up mics and organize the video camera. When the audience filled the house and the lights went down, magic started.
As each performer faced the audience, we witnessed miracles. Voices became stronger, movements bolder, and stories clearer, as our storytellers basked in the audience’s welcoming attention. There were delicious pauses and laughs that filled the room. The audience provided a rousing, standing ovation.
Mary and I could barely stay in our seats.
The event went beyond the personal transformation of the performers. It was a way of honoring the profession of nursing and offering the audience an intimate view into the world of the nurse.
Deborah Walker, Executive Director of the New Mexico Nurses Association and a big supporter of Nurses Speak, was ecstatic and eager to talk about what’s next. Other audience members flocked us to find out about our plans to take Nurses Speak on the road to other cities. (Answer: as soon as we find funding!)
Hearing stories like we heard on stage, you’ll never think of nursing the same way. You’ll understand some of the complexities of health care from the inside out. And you’ll remember the core of why caring is so important.
If there’s one thing I took from these incredible nurses it’s that we need to take care of ourselves, even in this holiday season of giving to others!
So Happy Holidays and please take good care!
P.S. If you have any knowledge of foundations that might support nurses or other caregivers to share their stories with a wider public, please let me know!