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In Work, Community, and Home: The Practice of Empathetic Communication

Rebecca Buell | May 18, 2020

I woke up last weekend with one of the Our Community Listens facilitators on my mind. Jacqueline Bulanow is a nurse, Cardiac Rehab Specialist, OCL facilitator and community member near Charleston, South Carolina. Her husband, Gregory, serves as Fire Chief for the North Charleston Fire Department and together they raise three daughters, ages 10-18. During the recent National Nurse Appreciation Week, I had the honor of visiting with the couple. What I heard were stories of empathy and care.

As a cardiac care nurse, Jac works with patients to rebuild their lung capacity, a process that leaves them short of breath, coughing, and often weak. As we spoke about empathy, Jac explained that while these patients appear to have symptoms similar to COVID, we cannot assume they, or anyone else, are carrying the virus. We need empathy at home, at work, and within our communities to connect us and make us more human through the lenses of understanding and grace.

For Greg, the need for empathy manifested itself differently. Serving more than 200 firefighters on 54 different teams, the Fire Chief quickly saw two things needed to happen: station visits would need to end; and two-way dialog would replace video updates in order to ease anxieties and increase understanding. This new way of operating makes up for him not being able to be in each station personally, and allows for better, shared understanding of the ways the department can keep its first responders safe.

At home, Jac and Greg recognize they will likely never have this opportunity for family time in quite the same way again. Evening walks, making evening meals special family events, and creating structure within their day keeps the family running smoothly. In addition, Jac and Greg leave room for individuality and differing personalities within their home. This might mean embracing the more outgoing nature of one child while allowing another child who doesn’t like wearing face masks to stay home in lieu of running errands collaboratively.

While family walks and home time increased with their three daughters, Greg and Jac are taking the opportunity to embrace differences in their family as well. Flexing to meet the needs of individuals—the extrovert, the homebody, the ones who embrace online learning and those craving time with friends—allows the Fire Chief, the nurse, and the children who make up the Bunalow family to meet this COVID-19 challenge as a team.

Learn more from the Bulanows by listening to our podcast here.

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