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Spirituality in Nursing

The Night Nurse

Published November 5, 2015 2:33 PM by Mark Darby
On a cold night before exploratory cancer surgery a woman cries....alone with her fears. A night nurse going by, hears the brief tearful sniff of fear and goes into the room. It is as if the night nurse understands without having to ask. She goes over to the patient, touches her hand and says, "It'll be alright."

This type of interaction will not be found in any of billions of the new ICD10 codes. Many researchers will scoff at the power of such an such a touch. Yet any nurse who has been the embodiment of hope for a patient implicitly knows what this night nurse knew. No matter what the surgery finds "It'll be alright." 

As you read the above paragraph perhaps you are remembering a time when you were that night nurse. The unit may have been different, the time of day changed, the patient someone else but you can recall it now. And if such a moment occurred 10 or 20 or 30 years ago you can recall it as if it was yesterday-the time you were the night nurse.

Playing this role for other is the essence of spirituality. In fact, it is the biggest single reason for spirituality.  The ability to share hope despite all the rational and scientific evidence to the contrary. Though others may doubt or call it wishful thinking, nurses know the truth which boldly proclaims that there is something else, something more powerful out there somewhere that can make a difference. We know this because we have seen it in our patients.

When we see the hope of our patients, we begin to learn that we also can have such a hope. When faced with our own doubts, demons and fruitless self-questioning we can have the same belief that "it'll be alright." Some theologians call this radical amazement.

This should not be confused with the phrase "self-esteem" which has been trivialized to nothing more than affirmations repeated over and over. In this country, with billions of self-help books and shallow personal advice shows, if talk alone could create self-esteem we would have such a surplus we could export it as a cash crop.

No, this radical amazement is obtained in the trenches of life. Illnesses, financial crisis, failures of family and friends, and the numerous other challenges anyone faces create the opportunity for us to discover this hope. Most of the time what happens in these challenges was not the end we had wanted.  Yet despite that, and maybe because of it, we survive and find ways to thrive the crisis. 

And in the darkest times, when we are crying in our room alone, someone or something comes and touches our hand and whispers "It'll be all right." And we believe. Our Night Nurse has come.




I am an old night nurse, spending the majority of my time in pediatrics. I loved night shift! What I most enjoyed is when I had an infant or younger child who needed to be fed or comforted....even if the parent was at the bedside, I tried to persuade mom or dad to go back to sleep, and I would hold the child and rock rock rock...until I had to go do something else, of course. Now I am not sure who got the most comfort- the patient or me?

Alene, , PN Instructor CCCTC January 26, 2016 6:42 PM
Clearfield PA

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your article, The Night Nurse. As a psych nurse, I often found that touch, listening, and empathy often helped calm the most anxious, fearful, and sometimes angry and agitated patients. I have often had my silent and resistant patients cry when I acknowledge their pain and fears, as I listened and touch their hand showing care, encouragement and support, letting these patients know they are not alone. Often, these patients became less fearful, more cooperative and began to participate in their treatments. Thank you for your care and compassion. Doris, Psych Nurse, Virginia Beach, VA

Doris November 13, 2015 12:42 PM
Virginia Beach VA


Good comment.  I find that the intimacy of bedside nursing is fertile ground to share a patient's spirituality and the strength they draw from their spirit.  

Mark Darby, , Director of Outreach Noah Clinic November 10, 2015 9:37 PM
Omaha NE


I am glad to see your writing about Spirituality in Nursing. As a bed side RN of many years I have realized the peace, confidence and compassion in you can be transferred by your touch and right words spoken at that moment. These small actions have tremendous effect on the patient.

Sara, MED SURG - RN, MT.SINAI November 10, 2015 6:33 PM
Queens NY

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