In a perfect world, we nurses would be inspired daily by our patient experiences. They would come in such abundance that overtime, computer crashes, and 10-minute meal breaks would be minor nuisances brushed off like a piece of lint on our scrubs.
The reality is this: Some days are hard. Some are plain repetitive. (I can say that because I’ve worked on an endoscopy unit. I remember a Monday we did 14 colonoscopies, nothing else.)
Patients won’t always provide us with the emotional feedback that fills the cup we empty before we clock out, and why should they? It’s not their job. It’s ours. It’s our job to balance the challenges of nursing while being sensitive to patients’ fear, pain, and anxiety.
So where do you turn when in all your humanness, you’re close to being labeled as one afflicted with compassion fatigue or burnout? When a co-worker says you are starting to sound cynical? I figured this out in the most incidental way while doing nothing but holding up wallpaper for an 8 x 20 foot photo layout.
It started when I went to a professional nurse council meeting. My plan was to take notes and tell my manager I had met my “committee involvement” obligation for May. Because National Nurses Week was right around the corner, I unwittingly ended up spending a Wednesday evening helping to decorate the long hallway leading to our pre-op area. The highlight was to be 60 black-and-white portrait style photos of the perioperative services staff. Our goal was to cover the wall with these photos, hang cardboard stars overhead, rope off the area, and line the floor below with a faux red carpet. Think Hollywood.
The creative genius behind this design, Karena, a nurse in the postanesthesia care unit, was methodically tacking the top edges of the gigantic paper along the lower border of the upper molding. Every 2 feet, she moved the ladder, climbed up, and tacked. I stood on the ground 6 feet to the right and kept the remaining paper from dragging on the floor. I was bored (mainly because I hadn’t thought out this cool design), and when I’m bored, I talk more — mainly ask questions.
Somewhere in the midst of my random questions, Karena shared with me her long-term commitment to fundraising for research to cure Chiari Malformation. She went on to explain. Karena’s niece had died from complications related to the syndrome before graduating from high school. A late diagnosis had made her demise sudden. Karena and her family were just processing the complexity of the condition when they had to say good-bye. As the nurse in the family, Karena took on the dual role of pulling everyone together, explaining medical terms, and preparing to grieve the loss of someone she loved.
While she was sharing this with me, Karena’s voice became lighter, her eyes shifted slightly. I worried that I had pried too much, but she went on. She explained that she and her family up north sponsored an annual walk to raise funds. With a wry smile, she said her family had become part of a university research study to identify a gene marker for the disorder.
I went home an hour later with a shift in my attitude. Something good had happened as I stood there keeping a roll of paper from hitting the floor. Not able to express exactly what it was, I followed up with Karena, asked more questions, and told her I liked to write. Like a true nurse, she was very generous.
She friended me on Facebook, showed me the webpage for the Conquer Chiari: Walk Across American annual event, even messaged me with a YouTube video she made in honor of her niece. All of a sudden I missed the volunteer work I used to do at a local clinic, and my pride in being a nurse was rejuvenated. My energy level at work increased. I wanted to be genuinely involved, not just going through the motions.
I know now what happened. I’d been inspired by a peer.
Patients don’t need to be your only source of inspiration. Look around. The nurse standing next to you might be able to lift your spirits just as high. And when your patient has gone home, that nursing friend is still there.
To see Karena’s inspirational video, search “Ashtyn Tribute” on YouTube. For more information on Chiari Malformation go to http://www.conquerchiari.org/index.html
Susan Bartlett is a perioperative staff nurse at Health Central Hospital in Orlando, Florida.