Listening to Kathy Bird, an icon in the world of Aboriginal Nursing in Canada and keynote speaker at the Winnipeg A.N.A.C. Conference, my attention was captured as she began talking about her lived experience - her history as an Aboriginal woman, both as a nurse and a medicine woman. She spoke of her "bundle" of medicine in almost the same breath as her past in residential school; these were the things with which she walks, through life, through her practice, through her learning. It made me wonder, what do I walk with?
I found myself without an answer. In my practice and in my life, I am often walking so fast I don't know with what I am walking. I used to know, but lately it seems I’ve forgotten. Where does my knowledge lie? I am not an Aboriginal woman, but I wondered, “Can I learn through this amazing woman in front of me?” Kathy went on to describe her life learning - how she found or was found by a medicine man willing to share his knowledge, to pass it to her along with the responsibility to use it and pass it beyond herself. Have I done that? Who have I gained my knowledge through? And have I been passing it on with awareness of that transfer, and with awareness of the responsibility of that transfer?
Initially I started to worry I had missed something very important, but then as I slowed down and listened to the beautiful song Kathy and the other Aboriginal nurses were singing, I remembered. I remembered that I do walk with something that was once very profound to me. Something that has become so much a part of me I’ve forgotten to recognize it. By forgetting I realize that I am in danger of being irresponsible in the practice and transfer of that knowledge. When we forget where we have come from and how we have achieved our knowledge, it becomes very difficult to pass on.
My grounding, my "medicine" is in my nursing theory and the experts that have guided my practice. Once I did not know what theory was or how it affected practice, but then I found a nursing theory which changed and solidified my practice. Within this theory I had found something that allowed me to be the practitioner I wanted to be, rather than the one I was struggling to realize every day. I realized my grounding is also in experts, and there have been many, each one having given me another building block to my knowledge, another piece of my own medicine bag. Sometimes this knowledge was handed to me directly, but more often it came to me indirectly through observation or informal discussion. Regardless, it was rich and valuable knowledge, no matter how I came to own it.
Each time a piece of knowledge came to me, it was like finding my own medicine man who wanted me to ground myself while remaining open to gaining the knowledge I would need to understand what heals people - and assist them, in whatever way worked for them. This was not about me, it was about being present, being open, being knowledgeable and recognizing and accepting paradoxes. Accepting that there is no one right answer, no correct way was also important.
Being open means using all of our senses to learn and perform "medicine". I had incorporated this into who I am as a nurse so completely I had forgotten it was what I walked with, and in doing so almost forgot to acknowledge it.
I will not be so careless again. Kathy has given me a great gift - the gift of remembering who I am and what that means to those around me and to myself. It is with this gift that I will go forward and build on the transfer of that knowledge. As I move into a new role, one in which I hope to be a voice, a mentor and gatherer of knowledge and information, I will be conscious of knowledge transfer as well as acquisition of new knowledge.
We are all in different stages of learning, of healing and only by being present and truly listening can I honour what has given me so much and has allowed me to gain so much from those I have worked with, have cared for and been cared for by. Oh and the last thing I learned; never make a promise in a sweat lodge you don't intend to keep!
ABOUT WENDY BOWLES, NP
Wendy began nursing in 1991 and has worked primarily in acute care with a focus on vascular diseases and wound care. Her career has also her into the community, including a northern exposure which was challenging and educational. She has had opportunities to teach and program plan in a variety of settings including high acuity, wound care, and nursing programs. These experiences have given her a multifaceted view of health care and nursing and led to her decision to enhance her advanced practice by completing her Nurse Practitioner degree. Wendy's recent practice has been in acute care, with a focus on cardiac surgery and care of the frail elderly.
Wendy is an active member of the Canadian and International Societies for Vascular Nurses, the Venous Diseases Foundation, the Canadian Association of Wound Care, the Association for the Advancement of Wound Care, Canadian Cardiovascular Nurses Association, BC Lymphedema Society and the Society for Vascular Medicine.