What is To Come
I’ll warn you, this could be triggering for a lot of reasons.
*As always, this is a super vulnerable post where I talk about things I've seen and heard as a nurse over my 20 years. It's graphic at times, but I promise there's a reason. *
I’ve been nursing since 2002. I began my career as a Registered Practical Nurse and then bridged over and was one of the last graduates of the Diploma Nursing Program.
Nursing opened up a whole new world to me. I was a young mom, but always had aspirations and loved school. I knew I wouldn’t be happy as a housewife or working 9-5. I tried on many hats, I worked at a retail store, I modelled for a short time, I sold make up, did home daycare….I never really found any of that full filling. I was always unsettled and felt antsy.
And then my husband and I moved into our second home. Our neighbours were an elderly couple, Frank and Donna. Both were on their second marriages, in their 70’s and quickly became our friends.
I was outside talking with Donna one afternoon, and telling her how frustrated I was that I wasn’t able to find work. I had put my applications in at Tim Hortons and had not had a call back from them.
Donna sat me down and told me a story that changed my life forever.
She told me about her first marriage. She and her late husband had met in high school, fell in love and gotten married right away. He went on to work full time and she stayed at home with their 3 young children. She was so happy, so in love. She loved being at home, spending all this time and energy with her children. Her husband took care of everything financial related. Donna had no idea what money came in and went out, she just knew that her sweet husband was financially caring for their family to allow her to be a stay at home mom.
And then one day as she and their children waited for him to come home from work, she heard the doorbell ring. She opened the door to 2 police officers. She stated that she doesn’t recall much from that meeting, just that they told her that her husband had died suddenly. She screamed so loud and long that she lost her voice for days. He had died suddenly from a massive heart attack. He was 34 years old.
“Don’t trust your future to anyone, only yourself. Do not rely on someone to take care of you, they won’t always be there, even if they want to be.”
Donna stressed the importance of being a self reliant woman, to be able to take care of my boys myself if the horrible occasion every arose.
So after much sole searching and disscussion with Kevin and my family, I applied to nursing school. I knew I wanted to be a Registered Nurse, however I was very realistic with my family situation. I was a 23 year old mother of 4 children under 5. Full time school seemed a far fetched dream, but I wanted to see if we could do it.
And we did! It was so hard!!! But I loved it. I loved that I had my own income that made a difference, that I had found a way to not ever be stuck not being able to support my family, and I had found FRIENDS!!!
Oh that memory seems like a lifetime ago!
And now as I’m half way through my 20th year of nursing, I find that I am beginning to understand the term “seasoned nurse.”
Let’s face it, nurses see some shit. The kind of shit that sticks with you and pops into your head when you least expect it.
My first traumatic patient came when I was STILL IN SCHOOL. I was a consolidating student in the emergency room and had a woman come in that had been beaten by her husband with an object. Her brain matter was all over her children, and also….my hands.
Once she had been taken by Air Ambulance to a trauma centre, my mentor and I went on to treat other patients. No break, no down time, no processing of what we had just seen/experienced/lived through.
This seemed to set the tone of my nursing career-always carry on.
Since that day, I (and ALL of my nursing family) have seen things that we haven’t processed, haven’t spoken of and have pushed deep down not necessarily because there is no help out there, but because that is the nature of the job. You treat, you support, you move onto the next patient.
And as you can expect, there comes a time when a “seasoned nurse” has seen the kind of shit that needs dealing with.
I’ve been feeling a shift happening for some time within me, and by shift I don’t mean necessarily in careers, but in the way I can function as a nurse and help other nurses function in a way that is healthier mentally.
I was lucky enough to be floating around in a pool just a few weeks ago with my close nursing friends, and was expressing my feelings to them, and they knew exactly what I was talking about.
We as nurses pretty much all feel the same way, just in different scenarios, different memories, different types of patients.
In the Intensive Care Unit, I have had patients who’s stories are so horrific and so tragic that their families need to be steered in the direction of long term emotional support. As that patients nurse, I am there with the family, experiencing their pain, caring for their love one, listening to their stories and learning about the kind of person they are and how greatly they are loved. Getting to know not just the patient, but the family, caring for them and feeling empathetic towards them. Sometimes for days. And eventually, when their family member passes, offering condolences and guiding them towards their next steps once they leave the hospital.
The family then goes home, cries, allows their feelings to arise and (hopefully) takes time to mourn their loss.
The nurse moves onto their next patient. Most times within the hour.
And we carry all of those emotions and feelings and fears with us, but don’t allow ourselves the necessary time to process them. Nor do we allow each other the time to process them.
Now this is not a knock at the hospital I work in, I have a very supportive manager, whom is very connected with the staffs mental health. The hospital itself offers debriefings for difficult cases and if we were to request one, we would not be denied. There is also a free Employee Assistance Plan that can be accessed by phone if we feel the need to reach out.
With all this support, this is my track record of caring for my own mental health:
- attended a debriefing….0
- talked to my manager about my inability to shake thoughts…0
- called EAP to talk to someone about a hard case…0
- reached out to my fellow nurses to discuss reoccurring images from a really traumatic case…0
I speak to my husband about my days, but he literally has been hearing this for 20 years, and honestly is just numb to the whole subject. Nothing shocks him any more.
It wasn’t until I was telling my husband about a patient I had one day that I was shook into the reality of my career.
I had a patient that had sustained MASSIVE trauma from another human-the worst I had seen. I told him how this patient was a 3:1 (3 nurses to 1 patient) and how no one got breaks. How there were 2 doctors in the room with us (very rare) trying to best care for this patient. I described in detail the injuries that I saw, the trauma, the wounds and horribleness that the patient had sustained. I described the family and just really talked about all of the interventions we needed to do to try and save their life, but ultimately we were unsuccessful.
I talked about the mess of the room, the blood and the objects everywhere as we were having coffee. Kevin listened with obvious empathy and sadness on his face, but not shock, as he had unfortunately heard stories like this before.
Without me realizing, my son overheard my story.
His eyes were wide and he said “that’s what you do?”
His absolute horror and shock, the shear eye opening look on his face let me know I had normalized a very un-normal situation in order to cope.
It triggered a switch within me that opened up a door for me. I began looking back at all that I have been witness to, been involved in, heard. All of the emotional trauma that I didn’t even realize that I had. It’s not normal to hold someones brain matter in your hand. But it is “normal for the job.” It triggered me to recall of the horrid and awful things that I have seen. TRULY triggered me. And I began to realize that in nursing we have a culture that has been built over years. There used to be a “nurses eat their young” type of culture, that I honestly don’t see too much of anymore. But I am seeing a dangerous culture of us not acknowledging our mental health. Not able to empathize with one another when a difficult case comes in, mainly because we have had a very similar case that we have not dealt with. Often when a nurse starts talking to her fellow nurses about a particular patient, other nurses offer similar stories. This can be therapeutic by offering a feeling of solidarity, but I feel like it leads to an acceptance of what we see and deal with. A feeling of “yes we’ve all been there.” Not one of “how are you coping? How is your health? Have you had some time off to process?”
Because how can you offer this type of support when you haven’t processed your own emotions??
You simply can’t.
As I age and grow in my own spiritual journey, I see how slowness, calmness and kindness towards myself helps. I have seen the positive effects of getting quiet and processing emotions through movement and journalling and talking with people whom understand what I am struggling with. And as I step further in my nursing career, I see the need so much clearer for helping to heal the healer. Offering not just coping skills but outlets to be heard, acknowledged and a safe space to release, without interruptions, comparison or “one upping.” I see the need to not be judged when a name or a word makes you cry. The need for not being hugged or felt sorry for when you speak, but instead being listened to fully. The need for gentleness and compassion while we try and break through that brick wall that has been solidifying for so many years. To be around others that understand what you mean when you say your head feels full of others lives, or that you are mentally drained and exhausted with nothing left to give. To be able to recognize burnout. To not be offensive to someone when you shut down, and to not be ashamed when you want your grown children in the same room as you while you sleep because you’re scared to lose them.
As this awakening grows, I am beginning to feel an understanding of past behaviours and emotions. I feel like a change in the way we as health care providers take care of ourselves and each other can honestly be positively affected.
Now, I am not naive enough to believe that only nurses feel this way. I speak only from my professions point of view, and readily accept that all health care, first responders share in these emotions. I know that when reading this, some of you are nodding your head in agreement, knowing exactly what I am meaning-and I know you’re not all nurses.
So, where will this awakening lead?
I don’t know yet.
I see wilderness, sleeping late, moving together and loads of circle sharing with time and patience, candles everywhere….but its still in my crown chakra….not quite ready to transcend down!
I do know that I have tapped into something I am feeling very drawn to , something that feels very right. And that usually alerts me to a huge change coming.
I’m really excited for what is to come.