Collateral Damage

Nursing is one hell of a hard job. As a nurse for over a decade, I can attest to the immense difficulties that come along with a job that you have to love, or else you will never be able to do. It’s not just RN/LPN… it’s CNA, PT/OT, RT…. wait… maybe what I am getting at is that all hands on healthcare is really challenging. I don’t care what letters are written on your badge, once you are in the mix of patient care, life becomes a precarious balancing act.

A small fraction of these challenges finally came to light during the COVID pandemic. Those not directly involved in healthcare got to experience some of the struggles, including physical/mental/emotional exhaustion, burnout, PTSD and anxiety/depression, faced by front line providers. Our jobs can’t be just left at work.. because of the delicacy of who and what we treat, our thoughts are full of flashbacks and what ifs, even if we are at home.

Burnout… emotional exhaustion… mental exhaustion…

I don’t care what you call it, what fancy bow you choose to slap on it, I am here to tell you that your healthcare workers have it. Period, full stop.

This is the part where this post becomes highly personal. I have it. I have anxiety. I worry about everything… if I am not worrying, I worry about why I am not worrying. I go through deep periods of depression and sadness. During those periods, even just doing the simplest things becomes overwhelmingly challenging. I find that I sink into this deep abyss of sadness and apathy. It is a curious mix, one that doesn’t often sit well, like oil and water, but, it all melds together causing me to not think or behave like those around me are used to seeing me behave. Random eruptions of tears, unprompted by anything visible but rather conjured up by the stream of thoughts only heard by me, baffle friends and family. In those moments, on a hail Mary pass to spring back to normalcy, I attempt to laugh it off.. Blaming it on hormones or the incredibly sad toilet paper commercial on TV, my dignity remains somewhat intact.

I find myself withdrawing from those that care about me. I just crave being by myself and total silence. Can emphasize with friends, who would love for me to go out, but, I either decline or cancel. It’s not easy caring for someone who works in healthcare. We all deal with these stresses differently.

Trouble sleeping? I just don’t mean trouble falling asleep -periods of profound fatigue combined with oversleeping, not sleeping enough, spending hours staring at the ceiling, nightmares so real they scare you awake. During the days, there are moments that the fatigue is so heavy, it’s like a deep fog after a rainstorm, but our work must get done, so caffeine it is.

I count my blessings that my own struggles are not hopefully transparent to those I care for. I brave a smile and do my best to keep my heart and mind open. Sometimes, focusing on small individual tasks helps. One thing at a time. Slow deep breaths. They don’t need to know that I feel shattered on the inside, right?

Being this honest is really terrifying. Judgement is probably what makes me worry the most. But, I am human. I know that I am not the only one going through this. People leave healthcare for this very reason. I am and will forever be a nurse, so leaving isn’t an option that would work for me. But, not everyone is like that and will soon end up with an anorexic workforce highlighted by workers with little experience, hence no burnout. This collateral damage of caregiving needs to be at the forefront of healthcare discussions.

What can be done?

Appreciate your staff – I’m not just talking about pizza parties and t-shirts… If your staff dealt with a very difficult situation, pull them aside, ask them if they are ok, maybe volunteer to jump into their role if they need the rest of the day off. Appreciation does not have to cost anything financially.

Talk to staff and actually listen to what they are saying: Not asking a question and already having a prepared answer. No.. just actually listening.

Compensation that is fair and just: I recently read a tweet by a hiring manager about how an applicant asked for x amount. The hiring manager so taken aback by that amount, because it was so little, decided to offer x+50% more. Why? Good talent is hard to come by and even harder to replace. People won’t leave if they feel their pay reflects their value. In a world where convenience store workers make more than hospice CNA, the healthcare world needs to reexamine the value of all of their employees.

Time Off: A contested topic. However, allowing an employee to have enough time off to recharge their batteries, time that wouldn’t be taken away if they were sick, would create a more productive workforce. Is a flashlight brighter with full batteries or half?

Understand how things work from your employee’s perspective. I am sure everyone is famililar with the saying “Until you have walked a mile in someone’s shoes, you cannot understand their feelings”. So, walk a mile in their shoes. See that things like inflation and the cost of gasoline often make it so that your employees are paying to work for the company and not the other way around. Try to understand that we face all sorts of different people, some kind, some violent, some aggressive, most thankful, some full of vitriol – understand that this all takes a toll on us. Understand what life is like on this side of things.

As for me, I love hospice and would never do hospice with any company other than the one I am with currently. So many offers have come across, but, they have all been turned down because of one simple thought… loyalty. We all need to take care of ourselves better – talk to someone, get on medications- if needed, learn to find ways of decompressing and relaxing.

These collateral damages of caring can be minimized. Communication, empathy, understanding and effort…. All things we use to care for our patients but are things that should be used to care for those who care for the patients.

By Helen Haddick BSN RN CHPN

RN who has just left critical care in the hospital for hospice. Join me for my journey Please feel free to leave comments and like if you enjoy this

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