I recently read an interesting article about an actor who, after playing a role, spoke as though he had actually been his character for six months. He talked about the things he gave up that this character would have given up and the love he felt that this character would have felt. It all seemed quite real to him. It was as though he had stepped into another person’s life just long enough to enjoy and appreciate something only they could appreciate. It was interesting how much joy he seemed to find in this, especially as the character he played had gone through some tough times.
I think most of my favorite books and movies have been those where somebody steps into another world and experiences the adventure of a lifetime and then, in the end, go back to their ordinary life with a whole new set of eyes for it. In some ways, traveling far from home has a similar effect. One minute you are you and have your same old life, and the next you are stepping off a plane in a whole new world with all new people in it. The best stories, in my opinion, are the ones we totally get sucked into, where there is a bit of tragedy, a bit of joy, and a stellar ending which leaves room for a whole new story. I totally get into stories. Perhaps that is why I get so into people.
I do not think I’m off base when I say that we all sit at our desks and nurses' stations with our coworkers and talk. We talk about stories. We talk about our stories and our patients' stories. We process the terrible things we see and the most beautiful. For example, I once played on my smart phone a Sinatra song for an old widower in hospice. He and his wife once danced to this song, throughout their marriage. His family and I watched him gently slip into a sleep, which became a quiet passing.That song seemed to call him back to the one he loved. I still cry when I remember how beautiful it was. On the other side, I can still vividly recall a patient with end-stage cancer, whose life I felt all along that I could not save. He suffered through the administration of every treatment in the book while his family pushed on for everything. Sometimes we do that for the peace of mind that comes from knowing we have tried everything and still failed.
We nurses think and talk about our own deaths. It is unavoidable and unfortunately can make some of us a bit cold when we are around something we do not especially want to experience firsthand. But what about this "empathy thing" that we see with this actor becoming another person? Are the best stories really the ones which can only occur when we see the world a whole new way? I could be romanticizing what we do, but what a gift to be a part of so many lives, and walk in so many shoes, and thereby receive the gift of seeing our lives from all new eyes. I hope to be like the actor who could do all this and find so much joy from the experience.