‘I want to work in emergency to have a rest’
… said no one ever.
I have heard the opposite said though, and I’m ok with that. Let’s face it: emergency nursing is hard work, it’s demanding and has been somewhat accurately referred to as a battlefield. This may seem counterintuitive when talking about wellness; I guess that depends on your perspective. For me, the crazy train that is Emergency is not a negative most of the time. Emergency is literally a life and death challenge scattered with minefields. Impacting people positively and walking out the other side – with yourself and your team intact (even fulfilled), can bring great satisfaction and purpose.
I sometimes use the phrase ‘leave no man behind’, not because we are indestructible war machines; quite the opposite, because we aren’t. We need each other, we need to look out for one another and also ourselves. I have cried ugly sobbing tears over loss and death, or little tears, anger, grief, frustration; sometimes alone, often with those around me. In the case that leaps to mind, I didn’t take the offered following day off. I learned… that I should have. The next day I struggled internally not to be impatient with those having their own crisis (it seemed comparatively insignificant to my raw internal emotion; I needed space to grieve). While I take work attendance and code of conduct very seriously, at times this means being upfront and honest with my emotional wellbeing and self-care – which is also my responsibility.
Not a single human is big enough to carry the emotional and psychological weight of what we see. Not you, not me, not the people who look like they are big enough. This includes every day in emergency, and not just the big stuff but also the accumulation of all the little stuff. Some experiences will always bring pain to my heart. I don’t think these will ever disappear, and that’s ok because in some sense they remind me that I am compassionate, that I do continue to care.
Conversely, resilience grows. There are experiences of loss and pain that I can give to abundantly in the moment and then walk away feeling ok. Arriving at this point was actually harder for me to come to terms with. What sort of callous person had I become to walk away from a loss and not grieve? It took time to sort emotion from compassionate care; or, realistic clinical assessment from indifference; and to grasp the clear concept that our ED nursing normality is not the same as that of the community or our family. Because this is our norm – on some level we become accustomed to the happenings in our world and that is to be expected.
Perspective is powerful. What do you do with the fact that you have told people that they have lost, or are about to lose, their nearest love? The sad things are often also the dramatic and memorable ones, but I wonder – do we balance our memories? For example; the awesome clinical moments, the correct call you made, the clinical escalation or teamwork that saved a life, the extra care, smile, word, comfort you gave that person, the thank you received… you know this list is long. Do we give the good things equal airplay in our mental script of this world? Do we enjoy them and tell those stories too? There is likely far more of the positive in our world if we are honest.
Which brings me to the perspective of weight… we take a lot on our shoulders. The responsibility we hold is massive. Whoever you are, making whatever decision you are making in providing care – you are not alone. It does not all rest on you. Emergency is a team sport. Individual shoulders only bear so much?
Work-life, like the rest of life, has seasons and these seasons impact on each other. Go with it and be honest with yourself, your family and your work family.
Here are some perspectives that may help:
– Know that you are amazing – I know what you do and hold you with great respect and esteem. It helps both you and those around you to intentionally see the good wherever you can.
– Laugh – it is a crazy world. Take your well-deserved holidays (regularly). Allow yourself to be human – it has taken me years to realise that my most respected colleagues are human too and that makes them even better!
I love my job. At times it is a privilege and at times it is all too much. I am good at my job and when I am as kind to myself and my family as I am to my patients and team, there is life harmony. There is a tension in all this love and pain; you could say love is a battlefield, but some things are worth fighting for.