Ayako Sanjo
Kishi Middle School

What kind of image pops into your mind when you think of the nursing profession? I've always thought of the nursing profession to be a very hard job. But I didn't realize how hard their jobs were until I got a chance to experience it first hand last year.

We have a program at our school called the "Three-day Challenge". It's a program in which all the second-year students go to various companies and public offices and gain work-related experiences. Last November, I chose to do my internship at Urawa Municipal Hospital. For three days, I worked in the "Rojin-kaigo" wing. It's the branch of the hospital that specifically takes care of old people who can no longer live their daily lives without medical assistance. My job was to observe and assist the nurses in that division.

The first thing I had to do was help change the bed sheets of all the patients. However, this turned out to be a more difficult task than it sounds. You see, most of the patients in the "Rojin-kaigo" wing are bedridden and can't stand on their own. So the nurse and I had to physically move the patients to each side of the bed while we put on fresh sheets. I was shocked when I discovered how deceivingly heavy the patients were. They looked very small and thin, but whenever I tried to roll them, there were a number of times that I thought I was going to fall over myself.

My next job was to help bathe the patients. We had to move the patients to the shower room by wheelchair. Then, we had to remove their robes, wheel them into the showers and manually wash their bodies for them. We had to be very careful because as their bodies got wet, we had to make sure they didn't slide off the wheelchairs and hit their heads.

But the toughest job of all was changing their diapers. Let me just say, this was not an easy task. I'm sure you can all imagine what the smell was like without having me go into much detail. When I looked at the patients' faces, I could tell that they were very embarrassed at having me change their diapers for them. I felt very bad, and all I could do was look at them and say, "I'm sorry".

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, both physically and mentally. My body ached all over and I could barely stand. I was so tired that I didn't even have enough energy to speak. I had no appetite. I even thought that I was going to faint several times on the way home. I thought to myself, "There's no way I can last another day like this."

But the following day, somehow, I managed to get myself out of bed and into the hospital for another day of work. I was still feeling the after effects of the day before, but I did my best to fulfill my duties. There were times when I thought I was just going to break down and cry. Then it happened. As I was helping a patient get comfortable on his bed, I looked up and saw him smile. He was an old man, probably in his 90's, with a wrinkled face, no teeth and tubes coming out of his nostrils. To some, it might have just looked like an old man smiling, but to me, it was the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. Images of the past day filled my mind and with tears in my eyes, I looked at him and smiled back as if to say, "Thank you."

It was his smile that helped me through the last two days of work. It gave me the strength and the motivation to work even harder. It was the feeling behind the smile that meant so much to me. It was as if we had a mutual understanding of each other. Being a nurse is a very difficult job, but being a patient fighting illness is hard for them as well. When we smiled at each other, it was like we were acknowledging and appreciating each other's efforts. I never realized how much feeling and emotion one smile could convey. We see many smiles in our lifetime, but do we really stop and pay attention to what's behind those smiles? I think that many of us take smiles for granted. I know that I used to. But now I look at smiles from a different light, and I hope you will too.

Thank you.

(1-3 Speech in 53rd Contest, 2001)

(C)JNSA FUND/the Yomiuri Shimbun

All of the speeches are copyrighted material of JNSA FUND and The Yomiuri Shimbun, and are protected by the Japanese copyright law.

JNSA FUND. All Rights Reserved.