More on Meera Bai, Faith and Nursing

I realized after I wrote yesterday about Meera Bai and her work at Insite, the Vancouver safe drug injection site, that she has both a blog called Strong Hands and a Twitter feed — @senoritabai. When I spoke to her on Twitter last night, she pointed me to an article she wrote describing her experiences at Insite, provocatively titled “Why I Help Addicts Shoot Up.” A couple of excerpts:

Something about seeing people at their lowest and most desperate, half-clothed from turning tricks for drugs while hating themselves for it, opens into a profound level of intimacy. I am blessed to enter the darkest place of people whose sins are far more public than those of the rest of us. Constant humiliation makes the people I work with especially vulnerable, and vulnerable in almost every way: to violence, to exploitation, to false hope and finally to despair. When allowed into these dark places, it is my privilege, and that of all InSite staff, to communicate worth and love instead of judgment and scorn.

The day nurse asks me to keep an eye out for a specific participant—a regular who comes in several times a day. She hadn’t been seen yet. Later that night, the woman finally comes in, and she’s beaming. “I went to see my daughter today! And I didn’t use all day! F—, soon I’m gonna get off this s—!” We break out in applause and cheers, celebrating her triumphs with her—as she mixes her drugs to take in a few minutes in our facility. Other participants in the room are excited as well; two of them come over to hug her.

Another regular later chats with me in the treatment room as I dress his abscess, trying not to cringe away from the overwhelming odour he emanates. “It would have been my anniversary with my wife today, if she hadn’t gone missing. We’ve both been down and out, but she took care of me out here. Now, I got nobody to talk to. This is the first human touch I’ve had today.” I look up, startled. I am wearing gloves, holding my breath, cleaning his sores with a 10-inch sterile Q-tip. Even this, my deficient attempt to heal, is taken as love by a man desperate for human connection. I am ashamed.

I finish dressing the wound, clean up, remove my gloves and give him a hug. I hop up on the treatment bench next to him and we sit together and talk for another 15 minutes: about life, love and faith. He says goodbye, and then asks for a referral to an exit program. I give it to him. He knows the referral is merely one point along our journey together, and that I will listen to his story whether he goes to the program or not. As a Christian, I know that his life is part of God’s real story of redemption. InSite is one of the few places where I get to hear it openly spoken, with trust, without judgment.

***         ***          ***          ***          ***

Often, participants at InSite are forced to sleep outside at night. Not having a warm, safe bed takes its toll on bodies, and special care is needed for feet. An InSite staff member chats with me behind the desk as he fills up a basin of warm, soapy water. Kneeling on the floor, he gently strips damp socks off the swollen foot of a participant and lowers it into the soothing water.

Washing feet here isn’t an oddity from a discomfiting Bible story, but a regular occurrence. Foot baths are healing—for body and soul. As I fill up another basin, I marvel at the timelessness of this act of community. The humility necessary for all involved in washing feet produces beautiful vulnerability and relationship, which, unsurprisingly, creates change.

But really, go read the whole thing. It’s worth it.

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  1. #1 by Joni Watson on Thursday 19 May 2011 - 1646

    Definitely agree. Worth the reads. Thanks for pointing us to her and the discussion!

  2. #2 by cartoon characters on Thursday 19 May 2011 - 1740

    Love it! I have always felt strongly that the Insite is doing good work, having once lived in the West End myself at one point, and having contact with some of Insite’s users in my work there.

    The humanity in Meera Bai’s article is so very touching.

  3. #3 by business daily on Tuesday 31 May 2011 - 1249

    Pauls Hospital and the University of British Columbia has found that supervised injection facilities such as Vancouvers Insite connect clients with addiction treatment which in turn resulted in greater likelihood of stopping injection drug use for at least six months….The study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence is the first ever to examine the link between a supervised injection facility and injection cessation…. Extensive research has already shown that supervised injection facilities lead to increased uptake into addiction treatment but no one has ever examined whether this translates into stopping injection drug use says Kora DeBeck a PhD candidate at UBC and researcher at the BC-CfE. Approximately 78 of participants or 74 participants that reported injection cessation were recently engaged in addiction treatment….The study also showed that Insite clients who went into addiction treatment were more likely to have regularly visited Insite and had contact with on-site addictions counselors. This finding is consistent with past studies which indicated that Aboriginal people who use drugs may be less likely to enter conventional forms of addiction treatment.

  4. #4 by The Nerdy Nurse on Monday 06 June 2011 - 2013

    After having my own foot washing experience, I can confirm a special trust and relationship formed between the patient and the nurse. It’s an act that we often consider routine but is truly powerful and appreciated to our patients. I try to remember that what seem to be the smallest and simplest gestures are often the most impacting and powerful to our patients.

  1. More on Meera Bai, Faith and Nursing « Those Emergency Blues | forensic nursing

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