Beyond Medicine and Machines

November 16, 2020

By Augusta Kennedy, ‘17

As a registered nurse at a community hospital hit hard by COVID-19, I have come to a greater appreciation of my formation as an Aquinas nurse. I was taught to see every patient as a whole, human person with an intrinsic God-given dignity. 

In a world that wants us to forget that human beings have souls as well as bodies, it is all too easy to see a sick person as a broken machine. When there is no more information, no medicine that works, and no technology that can relieve a tired body and let it heal, as is too often the case with this disease, future care may seem futile. 

“You can’t truly quantify or even describe that quality in someone which we call ‘the will to live’ or explain why someone had it yesterday but lost it today.”

But sometimes in the midst of all the sheer physicality of a diagnosis—the levels, the rates, the pressures, the doses—the intangibles get lost. You can’t measure fear, or hope, or love. You can’t truly quantify or even describe that quality in someone which we call “the will to live” or explain why someone had it yesterday but lost it today. You can’t see the soul leave the body, but you know when it’s gone. When you try to push these intangible things to the side and treat only the body, so much of the person is lost, because a human person is so much more than just a functioning organism or a mere biological body. Trust, gratitude, wisdom—all of these stand to be gained in a relationship with a patient that goes beyond medicine and machines.

My COVID patients aren’t numbers. They are neither oxygen measurements on a screen nor statistics in a study. They are people whose lives I am privileged to be a part of during an incredibly vulnerable time. 

The responsibility to care for others can be seen as a burden or as a gift. How grateful I am that such a responsibility was given to me as a gift, by those who saw it as such in their own lives.

Augusta Kennedy, ’17 received the Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She currently works and lives in Chicago, serving a diverse community of persons who are from multiple ethnic groups and who speak ten different languages. This article is reprinted from the Fall 2020 issue of Aquinas Magazine. 

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