Since I haven’t had much time for blogging lately, I thought I’d share something I wrote for school. This is an excerpt from a paper for one of my nursing classes. I hope you like it.
It was compassion that precipitated my journey toward a career in nursing, and like many of my peers, I had always felt I possessed a great capacity for empathy. That, however, was before I encountered Carlos (not his real name). He was a young man in his early 20s with elegant features and ivory skin that contrasted strikingly with his dark hair and piercing eyes. Carlos had acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, and its complications made him a frequent visitor to the hospital unit where I work. I paused to chat with him one night after checking his vital signs, and the conversation turned to cooking and food. He mentioned that he liked lemon juice and pepper on his salads instead of dressing, and I remarked that it sounded delicious and might be a good way for me to avoid the sodium in salad dressings. “Why are you avoiding sodium?” he asked. I explained that I have MÃ©niÃ¨re’s disease, and how reducing sodium in my diet helps me to avoid attacks of vertigo and keep my hearing for as long as possible. Carlo’s expression softened, and he looked at me compassionately, saying quietly, “Wow. That must be so hard for you.”
I was stunned. With just eight simple words, a dying patient had just completely transformed my comprehension of the meaning of empathy. Vertigo and hearing loss, no matter how pessimistically considered, can not begin to compare with the slow, agonizing death he knew he was facing. I have years, probably decades, of hearing ahead of me. I will not die from this disease. Carlos, only half my age, would not live to see another Christmas. Yet in the face of his own impending death, his body ravaged by infections he could not overcome, he was able to step outside his own misery, place himself into my reality, feel what I feel, and experience it as I do. It apparently did not occur to Carlos to consider how eminently more desirable my affliction was than his own.
I realized in that moment that I had barely even begun to comprehend the true meaning of empathy. I left his room that night feeling a sense of humiliation mixed with awe. It was easy for me to feel compassion for Carlos. I had never imagined, however, that it might be possible for Carlos to feel compassion for me.