Pretending in Empathy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was always full of imagination. I liked to pretend because we lived out of town and from the age of nine, I was the only kid at home. My brothers and sister had already moved out and my parents no longer worked. My dad was retired from the Army, and mom was a housewife. When you have no siblings to play with at home, you come up with imaginative ways to entertain yourself. There were no video games, no 200 cable channels, no television in every room. Board games, Barbie Dolls, and puzzles were the extent of my entertainment at nine years old. I wrote stories, drew pictures, and spent my time pretending I was a princess, dancer, hunter, fireman, bus driver, and many other things. I remember jumping on all fours from couch to chair and told my mom I was a big cat like in the Jungle Book. I growled and acted as fierce as a nine year old in a red jumper could act as a jungle cat on a couch. She always smiled and walked away.

As I aged a few years, my exposure to elders in nursing homes and stories on the news changed my pretend games. I wondered what it would be like to be unable to walk like Andy Hardy’s dad in a wheelchair. I wondered what it would be like to be blind like Helen Keller. I walked around the house one Saturday feeling things with my eyes closed. I dressed, brushed my teeth, and ate with my eyes closed. Mom never said anything when I did these strange things. She was great at letting me pretend things.

I remember not using my right hand for a day. I wrote with my left, and tried to do everything else left handed. I used my toes to grab a pencil and write. Mom was entertained by this extreme behavior at times. It never lasted too long that she worried I needed a “special” doctor. I was home sick with ear infections a lot as a kid so she was used to my imagination. I created whole worlds with paper and pencils and my stuffed animals sitting in as my classroom or audience.

The empathy I learned by pretending gave me a clearer understanding of the need for patience later in life as a nurse. As I currently care for a stroke patient who has no use of her left hand, I remember that day as a child that I spent using only one hand and my feet all day to write, eat, and dress. Freedom of imagination led me to find out through pretending just what I could become in life and how limitless were my options.

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