I MMA C U L ATA MA G A Z I N E * W I N T E R 2 0 1 5
Holistic nursing emphasizes self-care, which can be difficult when patients’
needs are so pressing. It’s tempting for nurses to think that their own needs
aren’t important, Berry says, and to almost wear it as a badge of honor if
they don’t take a lunch break.
But Berry reminds her students not only that they can do a better job if
they’re feeling well, but also that they’re worth it. “We’re not just doing this
self-care so that we can then go back into the fray and be warriors again.”
Berry is a holistic teacher as well as a holistic nurse. Class begins
with relaxation and mindfulness practice, sometimes doing chair yoga or
listening to Bach. She may bring a box of clementines to class for a healthy
snack. Her students had better bring jokes when the class covers humor,
because otherwise, she warns them,
will tell jokes, and she’s not that
funny. She tells her students to park at the back of the parking lot in order
to get some exercise—unless they’re going to be late for class.
“I feel as if they are mine to care for,” Berry says. “I’m here to care for
them and to help them be the best they can be, as a student and as a nurse.”
Say you’re working on a hospital unit with 40 patients. You leave one
room and rush to the next, trying to process what happened with your last
patient, trying to remember what’s going on with this next one, wondering
if you’ll be interrupted to take care of yet another patient.
You reach for the hand sanitizer outside the hospital room, and you
remember the simple ritual Berry mentioned in class. You wash your
hands of your last patient. You take a deep breath to decrease your stress
hormones. Then you open the door, ready to focus on this new patient.
Or say you were in a car crash, and you’re lying on the road, your mind in
shock and your body in pain. The helicopter lands, its noise beating away
every other sound. They put you on a stretcher and load you in the back.
You see compassion in the nurse’s eyes as he puts headphones on
you. You realize that these are not meant just to dampen the noise of the
propeller. Music flows into your ears, a dose of beauty in the midst of
One of Berry’s students is a life flight nurse who is researching the
effect of music on his patients. It doesn’t take long to put some headphones
on, and it can lower blood pressure, slow the respiratory rate, and help to
The word “heal” literally means “to make whole.” Nurses often talk with
patients who have lost certain physical functions, which may also mean
losing a role, such as being an athlete who can’t play anymore. “They have
to find a new way to feel whole,” Berry says, “having healing moments.”
Healing is not synonymous with curing. “People won’t always get
better, so what can we do for them, given that they are possibly going to die
of a disease?” Berry encourages her nurses to ask, “How can we help you
to feel healthy at this time? How can we help you manage your symptoms?
What is most important to you?”
Berry points to the hospice movement as one great example of how to
help patients heal in the sense of helping them feel whole—even as they’re
“One thing about being a nurse—you are there with people in a very
intimate fashion,” Berry says. If patients trust you, they may tell you things
that they don’t tell anyone else. Sometimes, when patients say, “I’m really
scared, I feel like I’m dying,” it’s tempting to say, “Um…I’ll get back to
you,” and make a quick exit. Or to say, “Well, you
good!” to make
them feel better.
Instead, Berry suggests, listen to their fears about dying. Provide
information about what will happen to their bodies. Explain different ways
to make them more comfortable, and do what they would prefer.