1. Young-Mason, Jeanine EdD, RN, CS, FAAN

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Compassion can only be understood through action. Compassion, like freedom, is a word whose meaning becomes clearer and finally clarified in practice, when known through desire and need, in hands-on life, so to speak. Also, like freedom, compassion is shown to be a mutual act drawn from interdependence between two or more people who suffer together for its realization. While freedom may seem an individual experience demanding that an individual act his or her way out of passivity, it, in fact, depends on action and reaction from others to be realized or denied. Compassion is also an action and a reaction, an interchange of desires that form a passion in which one takes on and gives and another gives and takes on. That action diminishes the isolation and passivity that can exaggerate suffering beyond a human being's capacity to endure and even psychologically control its passage through his or her body and psyche. This interchange is most profoundly and vividly depicted in works of literature and art that mirror human life in its range of experiences, especially its passions and extreme capacities, its release and suffering, its cravings for freedom and needs of compassion. No textbook can express the simple unselfconscious, monosyllabic cry of pain and joy found in life and echoed in literature, which goes deeper than any theory about humanity can. Thus, literature is a crucial primary source for those concerned about human care, especially for those needing to deepen their understanding of how humans both need and are aroused to give care. It is a mirror that shows both career and cared for sharing in the action of compassion, through their common humanity responding in each.



"One should not identify with the patient's despair, but with the life there is in him, with his profound desire-even if mutilated, deformed, or hidden by distress-to get better and to live. He must understand that I take his pain and his bad feeling seriously, but also that I am 'armed' to struggle with him. Even in the care given to comatose patients it seems that communication via talking and touching can have positive effects. I insist on this with him because I have often heard very competent doctors refuse to explain anything to a person burdened with uncertainty and anxiety, to rebuff him if he insists on 'meddling' with 'his problem.' 'Let me do my job; I know what I have to do.' I admit that there are some personalities, if not at death's door, anxiety makes difficult to bear. However, with a bit of patience[horizontal ellipsis]but one must still find this patience and exercise it.


For each time I fail to return the vitality of a particular life, I lose a friend. Someone who believed in my power and competence which consists of an assortment of provisional knowledge, practical experience, and intuition. Between him and me, on this decisive path that we walked together, we established a closeness between us which has indelibly inscribed itself in the web of my life. I forget the names, but the faces, looks, and the expression of a desire to live come back to me."


Lorand Gaspar, MD, Surgeon and Poet From Tunisia


Gaspar L. Hospital notes. In: Young-Mason J, ed/author. Critical Moments: Doctor and Nurse Narratives and Reflections. Bloomington, IN: 1stBooks; 2003.