A peek, or a sniff, at their worlds from Teresa Brockie, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Amanda Coyle, PhD, RN, FNP-BC:

Love & Prayer

Teresa Brockie pulls a small woven basket from a shelf, gently stirs the sage within it, and talks of Fort Belknap, MT.

A member of the White Clay (A’aninin) Nation, Brockie uses the herb as part of her daily smudging, a centering moment meant to “cleanse the body, mind, and spirit to prepare you to speak to the Creator.” As such, smudging is traditionally done before a tribal ceremony, she explains. The herbs, woven in three-strand braids, are often given as gifts.

When travels do take her to Montana, Brockie looks forward to the wild sweetgrass, sage, and cedar of a place that provides her spirit sustenance. The scent of the burned herbs awakens memories. “I pray for the people who aren’t around anymore,” she explains. “I think of my grandmother … her face, how soft her skin was.” And she knows she is home.

Smudging also plays a large part in Brockie’s work on other reservations across the American West, where trust earned among tribal elders carries great weight with the families she hopes to collaborate with to address distress. (Her research focuses on childhood traumas that can lead to depression, substance abuse, and in some cases suicidal thoughts among tribal populations.)

Back in Baltimore, Brockie relies on a supply of herbs (mostly sage) from family members still in Montana, “picked with love and lots of prayer, braided with love and lots of prayer.”

She hopes she has enough to last the winter. “I miss that I don’t have access to it,” she says. “Tribal identity is tied to the places, the language, the spirituality, the land. It’s where my ancestors and my grandmother are buried. … I miss Fort Belknap so much.”

Beauty in a Time of Ebola

It was a lovely night in Sierra Leone, and all around Amanda Coyle, people were fighting for life. “The setting is incongruous—golden evening light, the hint of a breeze, a rare cool evening; peaceful almost. And yet we are rounding in our alien-looking space suits, checking on patients, treating what symptoms we could with medications … mentally accounting for patients in three categories: improving, worsening, dead.”

It would be a typical evening at an Ebola unit for Coyle and other workers who had followed the nearly two dozen steps involved in donning personal protective equipment and then armed themselves “with blankets, water, clothing, medication, sometimes little toys; anything we could fit in our arms.”

Coyle, a family nurse practitioner, had signed up for the work out of a sense of duty, leaving family behind to worry about her and wait. A former communications major in college, she has written eloquently about her experiences that began in December 2014: “I didn’t know that being drenched in sweat and layered with gritty dust would make me feel so engaged, so intent in the purpose of being, so deliberate in the work.”

The memories, though harsh, retain a certain beauty. Coyle remembers Ebola patients setting up a picnic. “A grandmother had gathered a group of patients around her to care for them,” she explains. A very ill granddaughter was tucked beside her; a grandson stood crying over his mother’s death. She encouraged an unrelated mother to bring her baby to the blanket as well. And amid the death, the fear, and the suffering, indeed there was a picnic.

“The grandmother had created a moment of peace and normalcy,” says Coyle. “Not all gathered on that blanket that night survived Ebola. But I think of that memory fondly, for that grandmother was a portrait for the strength of women caregivers who, in the face of powerlessness and despair, display extraordinary courage and resolve to care for those around them.”

More sense memories are at Johns Hopkins Nursing.

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