“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot.
I was born in a cold and rainy city, in a cold December month. At that time in England, the most common heating source in the houses was a coal fire-place. Coal was dirty, full of dust, brought deep out of the earth by men who rarely saw the light of day and often died horrible deaths either through tragic accident, or environmental illness. This was before the days of ‘smokeless coal’, developed in an attempt to clean up the air. Before that, pollution from the chimney smoke (and factories and other factors) combined with the damp weather to produce those famous ‘pea-soupers’: fogs so thick you could not see your hand in front of your face. And the deposits from the pollution covered the buildings, turning wondrous sandstone creations into black structures. After the institution of smokeless fuel, and the cleanup of city centers, amazing yellow buildings arose, lightening up the area.
I remember my father ‘laying up’ the fire, getting it ready for the coldest time of day when everyone would be home. It was a ritual which involved folding big sheets of newspaper into triangles, then narrow folds, and finally bending each fold in half to fold over and over at right angles on itself to make a neat twist of compacted paper. The technique is similar to one I would use later in life to create crepe paper chains to adorn the house at Christmas time. The twists of paper my father would create would be laid on top of the coals, some tucked in between, to be lit to serve as slow burning kindling to warm up and finally catch the coals on fire. And the sight of those flames, so hypnotizing, so soothing, with heavy curtains drawn against the weather outside, would fill the cosy room with warmth and love.
The interesting thing about teaching nursing students, is that you will often trip over unfamiliar words, words that are no longer relevant or relatable for students of the current generation (Gen Y? Gen Z?). We have teach about the peak and the trough, levels of drugs in the blood at their highest and lowest levels. For example, the powerful antibiotics are no good if they are below the therapeutic level. But if they are too high before a dose is due, the administered dose could put the patient in danger of kidney toxicity. And so we must draw the blood when the level should be at its lowest (the trough) and then after the dose is administered (the peak). It is easy for students to picture the peak of something. I sometimes think I became a teacher only to be able to draw on a white board and I am also a lover of mountains, so I am only too happy to illustrate it for them. But the word ‘trough’ does not resonate with them. ‘Have you never had to lead your father’s cows to the trough to drink?’ I ask them. These predominantly city born students look at me in a mix of impatience and confusion. I draw my impression of a trough on the board. Did I mention that although I love to draw, my drawings tend to attract more laughter than admiration?
As a lover of words (which I have more control over than my artwork) I strongly encourage each group of students to use a cheap exercise book to collect new words. For students, especially those for whom English is not their first language, words can trip them up. It may be a technical word, medical terminology can sound daunting, or an unfamiliar word like trough. I don’t know how many students actually do as I suggest. Their phones are readily available for an instant look-up. But glancing at a definition and understanding for a moment, is not the same as noting, reviewing, reciting, looking up, trying to use it in a sentence and thus, learning.
It is the ambition of each teacher to be more than a facilitator, a bringer of information and explanation on a subject about which they are passionate. If we are lucky, we can act as kindling, as that spark that can start a flame. If this is your desire, the return on your investment may be low. We have to accept that many students who seek higher education do so for many reasons, only one of which may be a desire to learn. Nursing has now become synonymous with ridiculous wages, a situation which surely will not be sustained once our amnesic population moves further away from this particular healthcare crisis. Some students are pushed by parents who are themselves nurses. Whether it is a desire to see their children enter a profession that the parents love, or a more practical desire to see them in a profession which gives job security and a decent living wage, the students themselves seem less than in love with the idea.
However, I have been fortunate, in each cohort of students, to see that there will be those who catch that spark, who are both fascinated by the intricacies of the human body and its response to health and illness and who also have the heart, the compassion, to be truly therapeutic at the patient’s bedside. And what we know about fire is that it will spread if there is fuel, and nothing to put it out.
I must confess that the inspiration for this morning’s message came from playing with my words. Kindling is used in medical terminology to describe a tendency of the brain to catch a fire, to have a seizure, and once you have a seizure it beomes easier to have a seizure in the future. That pathway is the kindling. And then I thought about how lucky we are that technology has provided us with smart phones that store more information than a library. With Kindle on my phone, I can be kindling while I wait, reading my latest book as I wait for my hairdressing appointment, or in a few idle moments in a busy day.
This Friday morning, I hope you can be the kindling to spark a light in a young person’s mind. I hope you always have a book close by when life slows down. And I pray for a world without war, where all human beings can be what they might have been.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!