It’s been a rough couple of days on the front lines of nursing. I can’t give specifics, because ,obviously, that would violate HIPAA and I wouldn’t want to do that. This post is written more as a need to vent to people who understand my position, as opposed to one that is preaching to anyone.
Y’all, nursing is hard. I don’t have to tell my nursing friends that. They already know. But we take the difficulty of our jobs in stride. We expect our jobs to be hard. It’s part of what we do. Being able to take care of a dying person and their family and laughing at a morbid joke the next moment is our way of life. My non-nurse friends will never be able to fully comprehend this. I don’t come home and share stories with my family- they just don’t get it, likely they never will. I don’t expect them to. Unless you are at the bedside, in the trenches, you won’t understand. It’s not a judgement or criticism, it’s just the way it is.
I often will tell people nurses aren’t ‘normal’. I mean this in a humorous way, but really, we aren’t ‘normal’. I can clean up human waste without flinching just prior to eating my lunch. I have been spit on, urinated on, defecated on, vomited on – you get my drift? I’ve come in contact with pretty much every bodily fluid that you can imagine, and even one’s that you have not imagine (um- cerebral spinal fluid, gallbladder drains, chest tube drainage- I could think of more, but you get my point). I’ve been caring for people in some capacity since I was 17 years old. For 20 years I have been at this. I have been a nurse for 15 years and I have been a nurse in critical care for 13 years. I have heard so many sad stories. I have listened to patients and families, mere strangers, pour their hearts out to me- tell me things they wouldn’t tell anyone else. I have seen people die, sometimes daily, too many for me to count.
We nurses have a funny way of dealing with this. It’s usually through humor, sometimes inappropriate. It’s how we deal. It is better we laugh than cry. Sometimes we do cry, but it’s easier for me to continue doing my job day in and day out if I can laugh. I’m often asked how I do this. I think if you ask almost any nurse we’d say we just do. This is our job- this is what we do. And you often don’t hear us getting all mushy about it, that’s not our style, but at the heart of it we do it because we want to make a difference in peoples’ lives. We do it because we care.
And all of this brings me to my main subject. Compassion. Daily I have to fight to keep my compassion intact. I can see two majors reasons for this. First, we see people abuse the system- over and over and over and over and over again. I can’t really emphasize that enough. I could give you example after example of this- but, again, this is a bit of a venting session and not judgement. Overall, it is those people who don’t care for themselves, they don’t take their medication, don’t listen to advice, don’t follow advice and then end up in life threatening situations. They come to the hospital, we reverse their life-threatening complication, and then they do it all. over. again. It’s very, very frustrating to us. We see these people ruining their lives and it feels very hopeless to us. Despite our very best efforts these patients continue to harm themselves.
The second reason I believe nurses’ compassion takes a beating is because of the suffering we witness daily. Hey, we are human, and to protect our hearts from becoming too involved in our patients’ and their families’ pain we build walls. This might not be right, but it’s a reality. We have to stop our own bleeding before we can stop yours. If I become so completely immersed emotionally into my patients’ struggle, then I can no longer effectively care for them. Please, do not take this to me I don’t care- because I absolutely do- but I have to maintain some distance to be able to carry out my duty to you. I think we see varying degrees of this in our nurses- based on how long they’ve been nursing and personality.
What do I do about this compassion thing? I have had a series of personal events that have greatly impacted my ability to show compassion to my patients and families. Thirteen years ago I had my first surgery, an emergent C-section. This patient experience gave me a totally different perspective- a patient’s point of view. Another personal event- my father was in Intensive Care with sepsis, CHF, an MI and then he had a stroke while I was visiting him. I did not know whether my father would live or die. Through this situation I learned how important perceptions are. I found myself internally deciding how well a nurse would care for my father within minutes of meeting them. It also taught my all I could do was trust God in situations I can’t control and I certainly couldn’t control this one. And one of the biggest lessons I have learned has been through the death of my beautiful friend, Sarah. Her fight with cancer and her journey to be with Jesus taught me how to be comfortable with others sharing their sorrow. It taught me so many other things as well, but that is a book of it’s own.
My point in all of this? I cannot treat people as just another number. I have to treat people individually. We each have a complicated story and, as a nurse, I need to be willing to listen to the story and treat the individual with compassion. I’ve given the excuses as to why it may be difficult- but I have to be willing to fight that. I am a patient advocate. I can’t get too consumed in the agenda that I stop treating the patient as a human being. I can’t lump this one person into a stereotype and dismiss them without hearing their story. A lot of times I find that all I have to do is listen, really listen to the person, to make a difference. I am not super-nurse, probably never will be, be daily I try to do my best job- and daily I will fight to keep my compassion.