I’m grinding up a steep hill on my bike. Quads are burning, breathing is ragged, the sun baked pavement stretches up ahead of me, taunting me in an inexorable gradient as sweat drips off my nose.
I’m focused, single minded in my intent. Nothing else clouds my mind except the turn of the pedals. The thoughts that woke me too early on this weekend morning forgotten, washed away by the wind on my face, burned away by the pain in my legs as I start another hill. It’s meditation on two wheels. It’s just what I needed.
It was a year ago 2/27 that I worked my last shift at the bedside. I was burned out, didn’t care anymore and looking for a change but couldn’t get motivated to make one. Taking a voluntary lay off was one of the best decisions on my career.
A year ago I dreaded going to work, dreaded dealing with the unstable mess I felt my unit had become and sick of dealing with the overwhelmingness of not caring. I cared about my patients but didn’t “care” about them. Maybe I allowed myself to get too close, didn’t keep and extend enough professional distance to not feel burdened by their issues. Whatever it was, I was not healthy, mentally or physically.
In the last 6 months I worked in Portland I began developing serious anxiety issues. I had never experienced an anxiety attack, but when the first one hit and I sat there vibrating like a guitar string, hyperventilating, freaking out over going back to work I knew something was not right. I was crass, callous, more cynical than normal. Short and rude with co-workers and unable to maintain the Zen-like ease that I had previously, I needed something different.
Different I got. Moving from a teaching facility to a small community hospital. Changing from bedside nursing to compliance and charge capture nursing (clipboard nursing…). Moving from a city to a small rural community. Going from 9 months of gray skies to abundant blue skies and sun. It’s like getting my life back. I’ve lost weight, learned to sleep normally again and rekindled that spark with my wife. Life, for the most part, is good. It took 5 years of death by a thousand cuts to nearly destroy me, luckily it only took a year to heal me.
And now I sit on my porch, blue skies over my shoulder, feeling the sun on my back and know it’s been worth it.
My wife and I were hanging out own the couch, chatting about a variety of topics from a local townhall on Agenda 21, gun control and what color of laminate flooring would look nice in our entry hallway and we looked over to see our two cats lazily lounging in each’s favorite spot bathing. They were so content, lulled into peaceful complacency by our dreams, our conversation and our simple quiet life. She said, “look at them, contented and happy” with a sad smile.
That’s when it hit me, like a sucker punch right in the gut: we had said that about our daughter. When they (my wife and daughter) were in the hospital we had a nightly ritual. The floor that my wife was on listed visiting hours at 9pm which meant I had to leave but since our daughter was in the NICU they would allow us stay visit as we wanted. So we would go and sit in her little room say hi to our little fighter and talk about our dreams, hopes and plans, just like we had while she was in the womb. Her nurses would always comment that before we got there things would be a little out of whack, a little agitated, working against the vent a bit, but as soon as we got there she’d calm down, eased into peace by our presence. They would then step out to give our little family time to be just that. Even with lines and tubes coming out of her little body she was peaceful when we were there. It is some of my best memories of her.
I realized my eyes had welled up and I saw tears in my wife’s eyes too. Even though it’s been over 6 years since she was born and we experienced something I wouldn’t wish on anyone and even when I think that I’ve healed from it, something comes along to remind me (us). If she was alive today I can’t begin to imagine how different our life would be. Luckily we still have our memories and even though they hurt sometimes, it’s nice to have them.
According to a recent survey, burned out nurses are more likely to spread infections. Here’s all the gory details: Burned-out Nurses linked to more infections in patients.
Having been a burned out nurse, I can see where this might happen. You’re tired, you’re pushed daily to give care to sicker and sicker patients and there’s more of them. Those of us who have tread that road know that it is not an intentional thing. These are small mistakes made through inattention, missed attention, attention focused on too many other things, complications of being pulled 7 ways at once that being a bedside nurse in inherent to.
But according to many comments left on the article, nurses are lazy and sit around all the time, it is all a conspiracy by the Man to keep the proletariat down, that being abused is part of the job, that we should just get over it and do our job correctly or get out of the profession. Very few voices of reason rang out, but this is the Internet and trolls abound. No one really gets it.
There is little to discuss why burnout happens or what our employers can do to help with burn out except for a short superficial look at staffing ratios. Unfortunately, staffing ratios are not a panacea, they are a means to an end, but unless coupled to acuity it is meaningless. Too often the cause is that there is too fluid of a patient population with huge swings in census, that hospital profits and administrator salaries are put ahead of nursing staffing, that reimbursement for many stays is a joke and that our patients are sicker than before.
There is hope though as the article mentions that when burnout symptoms ease, rates of infection go down. This highlights the obvious: happy nurses are nurses who can deliver the best care. Simple really. Too bad the things that would make many happy are the things that hospitals themselves would never realize. Instead they will continue to bury nurses under a blizzard of pointless paperwork, poor staffing, sicker patients, poorer compensation and even poorer support from those above in the hierarchy. We need though to learn as nurses how to keep us from transforming into Typhoid Mary even though we might be burned out and understanding of what can happen is the first step.
Locals ask me, “Why did you move heeere?” with a questioning sneer. It’s simple really: small town living, even with its different political/religious views, over-abundance of Bud Light, lack of “things to do”, is more palatable at this point in my life than ever before.
I love my little trailer. Sure, it’s a mess, but it’s our mess to change, clean up and fix up.
I love that I can drive to work in 10 minutes or less. I actually love that my in-laws are 20 minutes away, more because it makes my wife very happy to be close to her mom.
Most of all I love that it is quiet. Before I moved we heard gunshots daily, sirens all the time, noisy neighbors, bratty neighborhood kids screaming at all hours, general noise. I’m sitting on my porch and all I really hear is the wind in the trees and the occasional traffic on the highway.
Did I mention trails? Yeah, that too, literally right around the corner.
Some nice double-track in the pines.
Where the pavement ends.
Yeah, I’m a happy camper right now. Hopefully in 6 months I’ll still be signing this tune!
Truly, I’m not dead. I just feel dead.
In the week I moved I climbed thousands of stairs. Never, ever, living in a three story building again.
It took 2 days, well, actually 3 if you count the two hour jaunt the first day, to travel 1500 miles. The wife and I, along with our two cats in the front of a 24 foot Budget truck filled to the brim towing a vehicle.
Now comes the fun adventure of homeownership with all the little things. And finding a job. Yeah, still need work, but things are looking up.
Things are a’changing…and I couldn’t be happier!
The thing about moving is finding all the stuff you know you once had but had seemingly lost at some point. Case in point, found a box of old NES cartridges buried in a box deep in the basement. Next to them was a box full of old nursing school books… why I kept them I have no idea, but there they were in their spine-busting weight.
On top of those things I’ve been rewinding my personal mixtape thru Spotify, revisiting songs from years ago, finding new ones and having a good time. One tangent led me to an old favorite, Less Than Jake, I can remember spending hours with them as the soundtrack of my life back in the late 90’s, reading some of the books I found in another box, like The Master and Margarita and a collection of Lord Byron’s writings (I was a humanities major the first time through). Heady stuff.
Thanks to YouTube I can pseudo-relive seeing them live. The venue is very similar to where I saw them twice. Small, dark, dingy, hot and sweaty. They put on a crazy, zany goofball show, and I had a blast. Seeing them again makes me smile.