The Emergency Room

By Daniel Defeo I have been a practicing Buddhist for many years. I often think of myself as a mediocre practitioner, but I take heart in the fact that, though I stumble frequently, I am on the path. I was drawn to Buddhism because it seemed such a practical religion. I consider myself a member of the "just wash the dishes school." This is helpful to me, because I have a tendency to overanalyze.

I am a registered nurse in an emergency department. Nowhere is Buddhism more helpful to me than at work. We see a large number of patients, often accompanied by their family members. Emotional turmoil is the norm. This, along with the unavoidable hustle and bustle of the department, makes for a frenzied atmosphere. My practice helps create a tiny refuge of peace in the midst of the turmoil.

The workload can be overwhelming. It requires all my discipline to complete the task at hand with mindfulness. There is a great temptation to worry about the many other tasks to be done. Paying close attention to detail in the present moment is a tremendous challenge.

Tempers are short. The stress of illness or of life and death responsibility can bring out the worst in us: patients, families, health care workers. People snap and snarl, unaware of the sting in their voice. One must have a thick skin, a ready willingness to forgive, and a genuine love of others.

Mistakes are inevitable. One prays that they are minor. Working in full view of others in demanding situations, one's performance inevitably on trial, there is a natural pull towards rigid defensiveness. One must be humble enough to admit mistakes yet committed enough to continue. In spite of (because of?) the stress, my career is truly right livelihood. It offers me an opportunity to serve others and to polish my practice. I especially appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh's efforts. His writings have been of great help to me.

Daniel Defeo is a nurse in the emergency department of a hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia.

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