Many things are indirectly asked of health care providers. Being a nursing student as well as working as a Health Care Aide (HCA) in the emergency department and an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for over a year, I have been a part of so many situations that I never could have imagined.
From responding to code whites to giving support in code blues by providing CPR, I value my basic life support training highly. I have seen it work and preserve life. Having this level of training is not only an honour, as I feel a high calling to help the society around me, but it is also a great responsibility. As a health care provider with this level of training, you must continue to be up to date, promote the evolution of your knowledge as the evidence demands, and always use it in an appropriate manner.
I am so thankful that my mom, who is also a nurse, was always able to give me a heads up or debrief situations that I’ve seen. I am aware that others may not have this luxury, so I am writing today to give others entering this field a heads-up. You will not only see happiness, life, and joy but also death, dying, and sorrow. No matter what part of health care you are in, you will see things that normal society usually doesn’t see. This summer I took a couple of weeks off work due to burnout and compassion fatigue. Living close to the hospital, I drive by it often. It always looks so peaceful from the outside, but once you have been through those emergency doors you know, it is far from peaceful most of the time.
We all have our demons, the shifts or situations that will haunt us, the patients that you will never forget. What matters the most is what you do with it. I’ve seen so many code blues I can not count them. One day we had four, and for a small rural hospital that’s quite unusual. A story that will always stay with me was, one shift I picked up in ICU, all day this woman was very short of breath, coughing up bloody mucus, and was so weak. The nurses and doctors were aware and were monitoring her close. I left my shift, and she was sitting up, talking, and just seemed to be very sick. When I came back the next morning, the nurse informed me that she had coded two hours after I left and had died. This didn’t sit well with me at all because she was young and was talking to me the day before. This was a huge eye-opener, that you may be caring for someone, who looks well, but the care you give may be the last care they will ever receive.
Debriefing is so important. Sometimes, even if death is not involved, a situation just doesn’t sit right. Maybe a person yelled at you for no reason, or certain emotions came up while you cared for a patient. It doesn’t matter how small or big you think the situation was, your emotional response may be harmful to yourself if not dealt with successfully. Sometimes the older, more experienced nurses can see a disturbing situation and continue in their work as if that is a normal experience, so normal as you would see it outside on the street regularly.
My advice to any new nursing student, from someone who is not that old but has seen so much, is that you need to be extremely aware of your feelings. When the other health care providers seem so accustomed to situations, but you are feeling uneasy or troubled, please do not push away your feelings. Their accustomedness does not discredit how you are feeling at that moment. Don’t let them fool you, those nurses just know how to compartmentalise and dismiss. They know how to put on the face to continue the shift. Your feelings always matter, you need to take care of yourself and protect yourself. I have found that when you reach out there are so many resources and listening ears available to help, you just need to reach out. As you get more experienced, remember to look out and guide the newer nurses and students. These individuals may be seeing all these things for the first time in their life. Be kind and compassionate, give room for discussion and debriefing, and never dismiss a co-worker’s feelings, as little as it may seem.
And lastly, as I have mentioned previously, compassion fatigue and burnout are real. Especially in the staffing shortages and the health care system as it is today. Unfortunately, I have experienced this multiple times. I will never forget the time I picked up a whole set in the ICU. That week there were sick patients up there and I did a lot of care with people on ventilators. My dreams began to fill with people on ventilators, nurses trying to rip out my ventilator, and me fighting for my life while the nurses were unhooking me from a ventilator. I knew that this was my body’s way of telling me I needed a break. Compassion fatigue and burnout, creep on you slowly, so look for the signs. I know for myself, that once I start getting annoyed with the elderly, dementia patients, or with patients that need a lot of care, I know, I need to take a step back.
So, in summary, to all those starting in the field of providing care to your society, it can be the best, most rewarding, and most fulfilling career you can get. But if you do not take care of yourself or your coworkers or be receptive to your feelings or the ones around you, it can become the worst career on the planet. So, my advice to others is to make sure are watching out for yourselves because, to provide the best care to others, you must take care of yourself first.