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I gained some interesting perspectives on nursing and life after spending several hours in close quarters with 38 wolves. Yes, wolves. A friend of mine, Donna Nayduch, RN, MSN, is a volunteer at a not-for-profit wolf refuge. One look at my hospital office decor reveals my long-standing fondness for wolves, so Donna suggested a wolf immersion experience while I was in Colorado speaking at a trauma conference. I jumped at the chance.
Most of the wolves in the refuge roam freely. Although somewhat accustomed to human contact, they're very much wild animals. So when I entered their territory, I took care to use appropriate wolf behavior so they'd accept me into their group. The process wasn't unlike being pulled to an unfamiliar nursing unit, where you need to learn the hierarchy and rituals of belonging fast. Unlike most nurses I know, however, some of these animals stand 7 feet tall on their hind legs and have a very impressive set of sharp teeth!! In this setting, survival depends quite literally on your ability to fit in quickly.
I applied what Donna taught me: Crouch down and allow the wolves to approach on their terms. Letting these huge carnivores approach, sniff, and lick your head takes some nerve. But when they accept you into the pack, it's magical.
Above all, Donna warned, do not make direct eye contact, which wolves consider aggressive and challenging. Because we all belong to the animal kingdom, there's wisdom here. To Americans, direct eye contact signals honesty and empathy; avoiding eye contact suggests you have something to hide. But in many cultures, the opposite is true: Direct eye contact is considered rude; averting the eyes, polite. True cultural sensitivity includes understanding how someone from another "pack" will interpret your body language and modifying your behavior accordingly.
Wolf packs are models of teamwork, loyalty, and dignity. All activities, from hunting to rearing of the young, are shared cooperatively. Adults stick close to the young to protect them, patiently tolerating their energy, enthusiasm, and misadventures. We in nursing, too often accused of "eating our young," could take a lesson from how these powerful carnivores guide and nurture less-experienced members of the team.
Each wolf pack represents a strong community that not only works hard, but also plays hard and displays true affection for each other. When 38 wolves howl in unison, each with its own unique repertoire of sounds, their voices command respect.
Yes, I think we in nursing could learn a lesson from that as well.
Linda Laskowski-Jones, RN, ACNS-BC, CCRN, CEN, MS
Vice President, Emergency, Trauma, and Aeromedical Services, Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.
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