This post was challenging to write and I’ve hesitated.
Hesitated because I don’t believe this is how the majority think or how they work or interact. In-fact, I believe it’s a small minority who, whether burned out or over worked; they’ve lost a connection to the work and people they’ve pledged to help.
I write this purely from my perspective as a patient.
I’m fortunate and I’ve been fortunate. I’ve benefited from outstanding and compassionate care from everyone on my healthcare team at Emory. The compassion and personal interest from each member of my team formed the foundation for my recovery post surgery and then became the stepping-stones on my journey to find the strength I have today.
I recently participated in my role as a Patient and Family Advisor at a nursing conference.
Listening to the snide comments and watching the eye rolling of the small group I was assigned to work with; their disinterest wasn’t lost on me. Maybe collectively they were having bad days or simply just didn’t want to be there. Who am I to judge them?
What gave me pause wasn’t the fact they didn’t want to be there or how they acted. What gave me pause was a commentary by one of the nurses in the group. She said she can’t and doesn’t get personal with her patients. She said if she did, she’d have to go home every night and drink herself to sleep to cope with the health crises of her patients. Clearly she actively practices a healthy dose of self protectionism and aside from being proud of it, she alluded to the fact that anything beyond keeping her patients alive medically wasn’t part of her job.
The commentary gave me significant pause.
I, nor any other patient or family member has the ability or luxury to simply ignore our conditions and diagnosis’. Trust me, I’ve tried. While we may compartmentalize our emotions and our feelings, they’re with us 24 hours a day. The luxury of avoiding and hiding from our reality is non-existent. If we choose to drink like she suggests until we sleep to cope; mornings arrive with the same bright sunrise and a lucid reminder that our condition and diagnosis are still with us. There is no escape. There is acceptance and there is coming to terms with reality and with the simple fact that life is not fair and perfectly packaged.
I was insulted and I was grateful she had never been one of my nurses.
I couldn’t help but think if she was in my shoes and suddenly became the patient. What kind of care would she want? What would her definitions of respect and dignity be then?
I felt sorry for her. Clearly she had burned out. Clearly she had no interest in caring for the whole patient. Clearly, she was going through the motions. While clinically, she may be an outstanding health professional, well-trained and highly experienced and someone who can save my life; she had no compassion and no heart.
I respected her capabilities and her training, yet I was tremendously saddened that in her attempt to emotionally detach to protect herself, she had lost sight of the fact that the compassion and non-clinical care offered to patients and families is often the most meaningful, precious and healing.
I listened respectfully and told her I could never understand what her job is like and the challenges she must face. I openly acknowledged that I could only understand the patient perspective while silently acknowledging that I hoped our paths would never cross.
It was sad and it gave me pause as a patient.