I recently was lounging on the couch watching television with my husband. I had the remote and as I channel-surfed I said excitedly, “ohh, look at that!”
“Say Yes to the Dress?!” He asked incredulously.
“No! The one titled The Man Who Lost His Face. And that other one, The Boy Who Cried Blood.”
It was TLCs version of medical drama, and although not as preferred to me as realistic ER or forensic shows, it was enough to draw my attention.
“Don’t you get enough of that at work?” My husband asked.
I realized I guess the answer was “no.” The fact was I loved medicine. I loved healthcare. I loved nursing.
Recently I wrote a post about having a bad day on the job. The next day I wrote a post about how hard it is going back after a bad day. I received some feedback from a reader or two concerned about my well-being, and worried if I may be experiencing burn out. First off, I really appreciate their concern. We have to help one another. But after the conversation it occurred to me that some people, especially non-nurses, might assume when reading a post of mine after a bad day that I think nursing is bad. They might even assume I am burned out.
Well… I am. On the days when there’s not enough of me to go around and I fear I am forgetting something detrimental, I feel burned out.
When I can’t possibly find the time to eat lunch, think straight, or even relieve my bladder, yeah, I feel very burned out. The fact is in nursing, especially if you are involved in hands-on patient care, you will experience days where you feel very much burned out. It’s kinda hard to be responsible for another person’s life and not feel a little stressed out about that. It’s difficult to watch your patient die and not feel emotionally deflated. It’s insane some days to carry the weight on your shoulder that nurses do, and on the crazy, short-staffed days with high patient acuity you may think to yourself, I can’t do this anymore!
And you know what? That’s not necessary a symptom of honest-to-goodness burn out. It’s just a symptom of being human. Nurses can deal with a very high level of stress and still perform like a champ, but to assume they are not human and that it’s not hard on them is absurd. It is hard, and well, sometimes I’m gonna tell you other nurses about it so you don’t feel so alone. I’m going to share it in a public forum where the layman can see so they might understand why we nurses sometimes appear harried, distracted, or aloof. It’s not because we’re rude; it’s because we are likely waging a mental battle no one can see.
At any moment a nurse’s mind can be racing with half a dozen or more tasks that must be completed at that very minute. An internal triage system is being arranged in your nurse’s head, and yeah, some days that is harder than others. If I tell you it’s hard it doesn’t mean I hate what I do. The truth is, I love it.
And I think a majority of nurses are just like me. On certain days they get frustrated. They feel stressed out sometimes. Some days they may even feel burned out, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. It actually means they care a lot! They care so much that they are bothered by the fact that reality won’t always allow them to care for their patients like they would wish to. High patient acuity won’t let them sit at the bedside just holding someone’s hand. Short staffing scenarios won’t allow them the extra time to really drive that education home. Increased documentation demands keep them occupied for longer than they would desire. It drives nurses crazy, it makes them flabbergasted, and they might even gripe about it out loud.
But they still love what they do.
I spend a large part of my time mothering. I have three kids five years old and under. Some days I get so frazzled and overwhelmed that I just want to run away! I’m being honest. But I love my babies. I have days where I feel very burned out on motherhood, but I love it. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Nursing is kinda like that.
Nursing, like parenthood, is a calling. You’re either cut out for it or you’re not. Anyone with an absent parental figure will know what I mean. Well, nursing is the same. The majority of caregivers at your bedside have a calling that placed them there, but it’s not some magic spell! A calling to become a nursing professional doesn’t make you immune to the frustrations of your human limitations any more than it makes you non-susceptible to indignation over unfair situations or maltreatment on the job. Just because nurses are called to care doesn’t mean they stop caring about themselves. They need to eat and they require a day off or two. They get sick, depressed, and have family issues that arise. They get angry over patients who choose to not follow doctor’s orders and those who treat them like servants rather than professionals.
But we still love what we do. See?
Being an “Angel of Healthcare” doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you one of the select trying to improve lives one patient at a time. Some days that ain’t easy. Some days it stinks. But it doesn’t change that one little thing.
And that is we still love what we do.