“Nurse, I just know I’ll never be able to fall asleep tonight,” Mrs. Bowen sighed as she finished her juice and lay back on the pillow. My students had prepared each patient for a night of rest. Backs had been washed and massaged with soothing lotion, sheets were tightened to remove wrinkles, bedtime feedings had been given, pain had been relieved, and the lighting adjusted. We had accomplished what nurses do best – provide for the patients’ physiological needs.
Maybe it was a psychological need. Mrs. Bowen expressed anxiety about a cardiac catheterization scheduled for the next morning. She had a clear understanding of what to expect. A nurse had visited that afternoon and carefully explained the procedure so her anxiety wasn’t related to a lack of knowledge.
After chatting a few more minutes, it became apparent her problem was not psychological, but spiritual in nature. Mrs. Bowen was afraid that something would go wrong and she would die during the procedure. Her priest had visited earlier in the day and prayed with her. As the night approached her fears intensified. It was 10:00 p.m. and soon the students and I would be leaving the unit. How could this spiritual need be met?
While the students were completing their notes, I returned to Mrs. Bowen’s room and asked if she would like me to pray with her. She replied that she would. My prayer was a short, simple statement of her fears and needs, acknowledging God’s ability to give her a good night’s sleep, a sense of peace, and God’s presence during the cardiac catheterization the next day.
Is it appropriate for nurses to pray with their patients? If so, when? Wouldn’t it be better to call a minister to come and pray for a patient? Questions like these require a careful method of consideration. Nursing has its own unique method of exploring problems by using the nursing process.
Assessing the situation is the first step. Is there a need for prayer? Has the patient expressed fears, anxiety, or powerlessness to the point that we can identify the need? Nurses should also look for clues to determine if the patient would be receptive to prayer. Some patients may verbally request prayer while others will give you non-verbal clues. You may notice a Bible or devotional material on the bedside stand, religious get well cards, or the patient may watch religious programs on television.
After determining the patient’s needs and receptiveness to prayer, you should then decide who should do the praying. If you have a relationship with God and feel comfortable doing so, then you should offer to pray. If not you may want to ask another nurse.
How to implement prayer may be a concern for some nurses. Fish and Shelly suggest that when we pray with a patient, we express to God what the patient would say if he were able. A few short, simple sentences stating the patient’s needs or fears and a recognition of God’s ability to help will be adequate.
Clark and Probert wrote of an experience of praying with the wife of a terminally ill patient. 2. They went to an empty room. The nurse prayed, telling God the wife felt alone and afraid, acknowledging God’s promise of never leaving or forsaking us, and asking God to give the wife comfort and strength to endure. After her husband’s death the wife returned to the hospital to tell the nurse that she had helped her immeasurably during her husband’s illness.
Finally, we should evaluate the effectiveness of our prayer. Was the patient calmer and relaxed? Did the patient or family verbally express their appreciation? Perhaps we may never know the outcome of our prayer. Even so, nurses still have the responsibility to identify and assist in meeting the need for prayer or other spiritual care.
And what about Mrs. Bowen, the patient who was anxious about the cardiac catheterization? A few days later I saw her sitting in the solarium as I was walking down the hallway. She called me over and introduced me to her sister as the ‘nurse who took time to say a prayer for me.” Mrs. Bowen gave me a hug and reported she fell asleep within twenty minutes after the prayer. She went on to say that a few difficulties had been encountered the next day, but she felt calm during the procedure. Mrs. Bowen thanked me and said she wished more nurses would pray with their patients.
Carol (Shamblen) Waters, MSN, RN
Instructor, School of Professional Nursing, Riverside Regional Medical Center
Fish, S. and J. Shelly. (1983). Spiritual care: the nurse’s role. Downers Grover, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1983, 113.
Clark, D. and Probert, J. (1984). When Nurses Pray. Journal of Christian Nursing, 1 (2), 22-24.
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