Not To Save the World, But to Care, One Life at a Time AJN Off the Charts

A nurse ponders the question of what makes her work matter.

Illustration by Janet Hamlin for AJN.

The Reflections column in AJN‘s August issue, “To Care When There Isn’t Enough,” is by Alison Stoltzfus, an obstetrics nurse at Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg, PA. Stoltzfus describes her experience volunteering as a nurse at a medical clinic in the world’s largest refugee camp, the Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh.

The work could be overwhelming at times. The camp she describes is a place where human illness and suffering often far exceed the capacities of available medical resources. She writes:

Some days the people would throng me in triage, pulling on my clothes and begging to be seen, desperation and longing in their eyes. A longing that at times I had to refuse.

Every day I would ask myself—“How can one care in a setting like this, and make a difference?” What good was it to make a difference to a few when there were so many lives I could not touch and so many problems we could not heal?

One life at a time.

The story centers around the author’s efforts to use the minimal medical equipment available to help a 12-hour-old baby who is struggling to breathe, the unrelieved pain of the baby’s concerned mother as she rides along with them in the ambulance over a bumpy road, the uncertainty the author is left with about the baby’s ultimate fate.

This author has no illusions about how things stand, but she doesn’t take a bleak or pessimistic view. Instead, her story provides a concentrated glimpse of the kinds of questions many of us face every day in a world where change seems to be happening faster and faster. What does it mean to help when processes—economic, natural, political—seem vastly beyond our control? Is there anything we can really do that matters? And what is our responsibility, to others and ourselves?

To care.

Each of us has a different answer. The author’s wise and humane response seems to be that what’s right in front of us is the one thing we mustn’t neglect. As she eloquently puts it:

As nurses, that is why we do what we do every day—whether in hospitals in America or rural clinics in Asia. We reach out a hand, one life at a time.

It is not to save the world we are called—it is to care.

Let us know your thought and experiences. The essay will be free to read for the month of August.

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