Love is the language without words, spoken in actions and truth. We learn about love as children, and that learning of love from parents and friends shapes the way we act and respond to those around us. And even though most of us know how to speak love as children, somewhere along the way, many of us lose that. We start to think that being "professional" or "strong," and hiding emotion is better. And so we hold back. As a professional, especially, we are taught to hide our emotion. You can't be a nurse if you let every event bring you to tears, too much empathy at work would leave you as nothing but a hot mess, scared to hurt the person you are trying to help, or unable to deal with the hurts you know they are going through. We are taught that distancing is important.
Enter a new brand of nursing. Step onto the wards of the Africa Mercy. The first, the hardest adjustment our nurses go through, is that the pace can often be a little more slow than they are used to. Nurses are hard workers... we will keep going for 12, 16, 18 hours if that's what is needed... if it will help someone. We expect to work hard, and we do it, and we see results. "Quiet" shifts are so rare and special that to even say the word is looked on as jinxing the rest of the shift. And as much as we might get annoyed at the person who uttered the word, the truth is most of us thrive on the chaos. Now, as I was saying, enter the wards of the Africa Mercy. Yes, we have some busy shifts, but things are often well controlled, with a few parts of the day where you need to look for something to do. And nurses balk at that. Until they learn the secret that has made this place so very, very special to me.
The time we have between tasks, this is the time for relationships. This is when the woman who has never learned to read or write teaches you the words of her language... she has something you don't have, and is excited to teach it to you. This is when you return the favor and teach her to write her name. This is the time when you take a fussy baby from it's mother and get her to teach you to "Bumba" her baby (the local word for strapping a baby to your back with a piece of cloth), and the whole ward laughs at the awkward attempt, or applauds the way you can do it "like an African." This is the time when you sit down and read "Go Dog Go" to the young boy who is excited to soak in any words of english that he can and mimics your every word. This is the time when you go to watch how the ladies braid their hair into amazing hairstyles... and have a beautiful, outcast, woman on each side clutching you in casual hugs that don't let go until you need to leave. This is the time when you make faces across the ward at the child who's afraid of white people, until he lets you get close enough to tickle him, and slowly, slowly make friends. This is the time when glove balloons fly across the ward, covered in writing or smiley faces. This is the time when you learn language isn't necessary to show love. Love flows through the interactions. Love is universal.
This is the time for sacrificial love, when a charming two-year-old gestures for the drawer with the nailpolish, pulls it out and indicates he wants to paint your fingers... and you let him.
It's learning to be a nurse in ways you never can be at home. Because here, you can really love on them, and feel the love flow back. Here where there are so many languages, there is one that we all speak.