Engel shares message of compassion with nursing students, faculty

Marcus Engel“Marcus, my name is Jennifer. You were in a car accident,” the emergency room technician told Marcus Engel. “You are in the hospital. I’m here.”

In the more than 23 years that have passed since Engel heard those words, he has become a best-selling author and speaker. On Feb. 27, he shared with Linfield-Good Samaritan School of Nursing students and faculty the horror of the car accident he and three friends experienced driving home from a Missouri hockey game.

Engel lost his eyesight, and one doctor described the broken bones in his face as “a bowl of cornflakes.” But he survived. And, eventually, recovered. He came to Linfield to talk about the accident, but even more about his experiences as a patient and all the health care professionals who made his recovery possible. It was six months before he would be able to walk out of St. Louis’ Barnes-Jewish Hospital following the accident.

“Simple human presence is the cornerstone of care,” Engel told the aspiring nurses and their professors.

“That quote was inspiring,” Jacqueline Webb, associate professor of nursing, said afterward. “In a world that values time efficiency and technology, we often forget what it means to be truly present with another human being.”

Linfield students taking the NURS 315 Professional Communications course have been required to read Engel’s book, “I’m Here” for the past six years.

“The book is a powerful story, written to illustrate the impact effective, compassionate communication has on patients when they enter the healthcare system,” said Webb.

Compassion was a cornerstone of Engel’s presentation. He told the students about a nurse named Barb, who said to him after he came out of a 25-hour surgery, “I get to take care of you for the next eight hours.” That phrase left a profound impact on Engel, as he realized Barb viewed nursing as a privilege.

“There’s nothing more important in this world than taking care of the sick and injured,” said Engel. He called the nursing profession, “sacred work.”

Engel calls himself a “terrible patient.” He told the audience he can get angry and sometimes uses profanity. He described one particularly difficult conversation with an ophthalmologist who informed him that they wouldn’t be able to restore his sight.

“I wanted to hurt those surgeons.”

Because of his facial injuries, his primary communication was limited to writing on yellow legal tablets. He wrote to the doctors, “How can you look at yourself in the mirror if you can’t fix me?”

“I greatly appreciated his perspective on pain,” said Karina Navarro, a fourth-semester nursing student. “Marcus made it clear that sometimes when patients are in pain they may lash out on us, but that we must keep in mind that it’s not personal.”

Webb first reached out to Engel three years ago about bringing him to Linfield. After he agreed to speak, Webb wrote a Faculty Diversity Grant to help pay for the visit. Student affairs, the Multicultural Nursing Student Association and the Nursing department provided additional financial support.

Engel’s day at the Linfield-Good Samaritan School of Nursing included two presentations to packed auditoriums, a lunch with the nursing faculty and dinner with the Multicultural Nursing Student Association. Webb said it was a powerful day for everyone involved.

“The Art of Nursing is not about how many IV’s you can start or how many lab tests you’ve memorized, but about how well you are listening to your client’s story,” she said. “It’s in the listening that nursing can be most effective in meeting the needs of their patients.”