The other day, I sat at my computer when my boss walked up. "How are you?" she asked. "I'm good, things are just hard right now with my patients" I replied, hoping that she would walk away and not ask anymore questions. But, because she is an awesome person that happens to be my boss, she continued..."It seems like you have had your share of hard cases lately, and I can tell you are struggling. You have to figure out how to back off a little so you don't burn out." It's funny that she noticed because I have been thinking a lot about how to cope these days. It's been on my mind for a month or two as I begin this new year.
People have been asking me how I do "it"...deal with one of life's hardest times for families day after day, week after week until they are gone. It is a great question...how do I do it? One would think that seeing suffering, dying and sadness becomes common place, that it becomes, as my son told me yesterday, "all in a days work."
Not so much...
There is so much in life that is how you look at it, wouldn't you agree? It's perspective...
Last week, our community lost a father, son, cop and all around good guy who stopped to help a stranger. It was cold, it was snowy and it was a situation that he could have just drove on and said, "I'm off and I have other things to do" but he did not. So in a split second, without notice, he was gone. No diagnosis, no planning for the future, no pain medication for symptom control...no time to change relationships if need be...no nothing. One minute here, the next minute gone and life as it was changed forever.
I tell this story because usually, in hospice care, it is different. I can't say that a family and patient that sign up don't have emotions and it is all wine and roses...but there is usually time to do some preparation for the changes to come. There is planning that is offered, spiritual support if that is what the person and the family needs, explanations of how disease processes progress and time to talk, to fight, to love each other...
There is always some comfort in caring for the person...be it helping them come to terms with the end of life, or stopping the busy life and sitting and talking. Many families will pull out the old pictures and recall the wonderful times and maybe not so wonderful times together...they comfort each other and understand the love that they had. They learn things about each other that they didn't know and see each others hearts.
I like to think that there is a measure of control that they can have back in the midst of the struggle. They can choose to struggle or choose to stop the struggle. Hospice puts those decisions in the hand of the person who has the terminal illness. It takes it out of the hands of the doctors...
And finally, it allows the patient to be at home...in their favorite chair with the dog or cat on their lap or in their bed with their love next to them. They can sleep all night or be up all night and it is their choice...and that is a comfort unto itself.
From where I stand, being a hospice nurse is a blessing to me. Oh yes, my heart aches daily and I am pushing feelings to different parts of my heart but...I can't imagine doing anything else and Lord knows I've tried.
These thoughts leave me with two questions to ponder.
1. Isn't living life the the fullest and living on the edge of "burn out" all just how you look at it, your perspective?
2. When bad things happen to good people, and they do...people become softer, more loving and are ready at a moments notice to help...wouldn't the world be a gentler place if we acted like that most days?
I have no monopoly the "right" way to live or for that matter, die. I just drive from home to home and family to family and ponder these things...hoping to be what each family needs at the time. And some days I have the greatest ideas for helping that are epic fails...But, I try and to most people...that's all that matters.
So I'm gonna burn out I guess...continue to try to care for folks with my whole heart and deal with the fall out when I have time. It's what I would want if the nurse was caring for my loves in my life...
Let's all burn out together from helping each other in this hard world...maybe soften it a little for someone else and each other!
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,