More About Easing the Edges

From the Preface: "On Easing the Edges"
The title of this volume, Easing the Edges, comes from a carpentry term taught to me by my father-in-law, Francis Schellinger. While the phrase is traditionally used to describe beveling, or rounding, the sharp edges of a piece of wood, I find the phrase rich with possibilities for describing our responses to the human condition. Specifically, it seems to me that "easing the edges" is a very apt description for the role of caregivers in illness and health care. In particular, much of what medicine and nursing do for patients is a form of "easing the edges" of suffering and dismay. With serious illness, the patient becomes incredibly vulnerable and dependent on the caregiver. Often serious illness provides the first stark realization of a person's utter frailty and the prospect of ultimate demise. The caregiver plays a critical role in helping the patient cope with such reality while maintaining personal dignity and hope. The role of the caregiver is especially important because of the imperfect nature of medicine. Unlike a fairly precise science such as physics or mathematics, much of medicine revolves around personal values and judgment decisions. Often precise knowledge of what to do, or not to do, is lacking. There is an inescapable fallibility in health care, and it is certainly possible for the patient to be either harmed or benefited by clinical judgments and therapeutic interventions.
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Literature can play a pivotal role in educating caregivers, patients, and the public about such factors. Much insight can be gained from literary portraits of what illness means and how caregivers, patients, and families can either heroically, or meanly, respond to it. Certainly, the use of story for educating society is seen throughout recorded history. In our current world of high technology and scientific detachment, the focus on human nature in the health care setting can prove to be most enlightening.

I am particularly interested in the use of literature for helping the caregiver determine who he or she should be. In nursing and medical schools it is difficult to know how to foster integrity and character that will persist throughout professional life. While abstract principles and professional maxims can be helpful, it is my belief that the use of story and personal images may be an even stronger force in helping provide direction to the caregiver. Numerous examples exist in literature of both heroic and dastardly personal responses to life's travails, and to illness care in particular. The characters and voices of literature can graphically portray life's options, rewards, and treacherous pitfalls. . . .
--Jerome W. Freeman


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