If you’ve ever seen the vampire diaries you know these vampires have an extreme heighten sense of emotions, they feel everything on another spectrum. They also have the ability to shut that off. It’s like a switch they hit and it’s incredibly hard to turn that back on. People in the medical field do something similar. They call it compartmentalizing.
Have you ever witnessed something so traumatic that it breaks you? Maybe you’ve watched a loved one die, found yourself at the scene of a car crash, saw an accident happen before your very eyes… the emotional claim it has on you breaks your soul in two. Nurses experience these kind of things regularly. You don’t see it on their face at the time because we compartmentalize these things so that we can continue to care for those still living.
I was rude to someone this weekend after they had experienced an unexpected trauma. I wasn’t very empathetic because I have been doing this for so long and have forgotten what that fresh nursing experience is like. You know the old saying, ‘nurses eat their young’? I vowed when I became a nurse not to be like that. I wanted to be someone you could come to and learn from without the bite that comes with it. Whether you are new or old to the medical profession, you are going to experience shock, pain, and heartbreak. We become conditioned to these things and shut it off. We flip our switches and continue to care for the next one.
To the newbies we may seem heartless after a failed code. I know that look you just gave us as we continue to eat our lunch and check in meds… all while you sit in silence with your heated cheeks and flooded eyes. I know what you are thinking… that we are all stone faced with paralyzed hearts. I promise you we feel it. We feel it when we go to lay our heads on our pillows at night, replaying the entire code in slow motion, second guessing every move we made, retracing the steps back and wondering if there was anything different we could have done. We feel it in our dreams as the nightmares fill our minds with the last agonizing breath that was let out. We feel it as we shower in the morning, we feel it every time we hear the tone of the overhead page, every time someone says our name a certain way, every time we slip our scrubs on. We feel it. But right now, right this minute, as we work we cannot feel it. You HAVE to learn to shut that switch off. You cannot freeze up and cry in that room, they need you. Everything you have ever learned, this is it. Shut that switch off and act fast now, cry later. We cannot carry the weight around with us as we continue to work and care for the living. Right now we have to put on a smile and walk to the next room and continue on. They need us.
You can always tell the old from the new in this way. You come to trust each other and have unspoken communication. The trauma is not held on their face but you can see it in their eyes. We almost become telepathic. We could be in the same room as another nurse and say something without saying it at all. It’s like a superpower.
Our CNAs are one of the most important parts of what we do. There is one in particular that I would trust with my own life. She works the night shift, her name is Haley. Now Haley is soft spoken, at least to me. I nominate her every year for CNA of the year (probably not supposed to say that aloud but it’s my blog so I’ll do what I want). Haley has this gift I was just speaking about. She does her job without complaining, she shows up and works hard. I could tell her there’s a disaster in a room that needs attention and she doesn’t let out a groan, she just smiles and says, ‘I’ll take care of it’. Now I know I’m the wound care nurse but more often than I’d like I get put on a med cart. One morning I was coming in to start my shift and Haley comes out of a room with this face that we all recognize as the stone face (means she a veteran) and says the words no nurse wants to hear, ‘there’s something wrong with this patient but I can’t put my finger on it’. That one phrase can make any nurse cringe, it’s a enchantment for disaster… almost as if speaking the words “quiet” or “good day”. I may not speak to Haley on a regular basis or anything but I trust her, I have seen her work and she has earned that trust. Within 2 minutes we are calling a code blue for said patient, Haley saved this patients life. And afterwards, through the chaos and paperwork, I looked to check in on her and she was tending to the next patient. Continuing onward with a smile on her face. That is what these patients need. They need people who can continue to care for them even after the trauma next door.
So I know that I may seem like I wear the name badge ‘Tinman’, but I feel it too. And I’m sorry for not being more empathetic, I sometimes forget I was new once as well. I hope you continue on and create your own coping mechanisms so that you can continue to care for those that live on.