January 2019 - A Healing Presence

A Healing Presence


In a former life I was a staff nurse, latterly working at York Hospital in the theatre department. In fact, most of the fifteen years that I nursed were either in anaesthetics or recovery (Post Anaesthetic Care Unit, or 'Slap and Shout' as it was mockingly called by those who didn't appreciate the art and science of guarding people back into consciousness). Where else do you legally get to inject hard drugs into people's blood streams on a regular basis and not get arrested for your troubles? And there was, indeed, a real art tending to people who were frequently delivered into your care unconscious and not yet breathing. Like flying, it's the take off and landing where most risk lies.

There is a joke that runs something like this: What do sex, death and anaesthetics have in common? They are the three things that leave you horizontal and breathless!

When training new staff or students, I used to talk about the importance of simply standing still and paying attention to a patient's breathing – its frequency, depth, noises, and the different movements of chest, abdomen and shoulders. Without attending to these simple things one could miss the early signs of trouble that could be avoided. But with care, the nurse would know, almost instinctively, just the right time to stir the patient, remove any breathing tube, and offer calm reassurance. With great regularity, a calm and stress-free recovery led many patients unconvinced that their surgery had even taken place already!

The skills are transferable, I would suggest. Giving someone our full attention, observing their breathing, looking for any signs of distress, and listening carefully – none of it is advanced level stuff, but is a way of quietly being with another person, even in stillness and silence. Doing nothing and everything at the same time.

If one is able to still the inner self, quieten the internal noise, to the extent that listening and observing is possible, then we can be a healing presence to those with whom we watch and wait. In fact, God's first language is silence, and so this becomes a primal sort of prayer – not asking, not doing, but silent and still. Love, like prayer, is about where we place our attention, and about upon whom we choose to rest our gaze.

Your Rector

This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the January 2019 issue of The Grapevine