I have been thinking. I have been reflecting. And I decided I would write a confession of a “calloused healthcare provider” who is only human. Add this to the long list of other healthcare provider’s and/or daughters taking care of a loved one who are hoping to be understood. For me, they are one in the same. (Yes, I will be using "I" and "we" interchangeably and grammatically incorrectly). Recently I read a comment on a friend’s Facebook thread that struck a nerve. It is the nerve of judgement I feel every time non-healthcare professionals judge healthcare providers (like myself) as being cold hearted because we are willing to laugh in the face of death and pain, and then move on with life. The post read (through my perception) as follows: “a lot of healthcare people/EMS are more callous than the rest of society, therefore consider themselves cooler.” Being a registered nurse, therefore apart of the collaborative group of “healthcare providers” I felt a little prick of guilt, defensiveness, and anger at the sentiment. I took the label of being “calloused” to heart and reflected on it. Sure, I could be like many others and not care what people think of me, but If I am one hundred percent honest, I really do care if people see me as caring, empathetic, and kind versus calloused, prideful, and insensitive. I would say that most of the healthcare providers I work with also care that people see them as caring and empathetic. Heck, why would we keep doing the job we do. I can tell you, the money is not enough to keep a majority of people in the healthcare provider role. So, I thought I would write and share my 2 cents on us being “calloused, therefore cooler.”
Being a healthcare provider or care taker (doctor, nurse, RT, PT, OT, nurse’s aide, tech, imaging personnel, spouse, child, etc.) can be a challenging role. We see people at their worst. Let’s face it, humans typically do not seek healthcare when they are feeling their best! We wipe asses, pound people’s chest’s to keep them alive, catch projectile vomit with our hands, snatch falling patients up with our own backs (even when they weigh 2x our own body weight) so they do not hit the floor, wrap up disassociated limbs in hopes they can be reconnected, suction boogies from tubes, hold other people’s dying loved ones, calm the mentally unstable with therapeutic communication, tell patients they have cancer and explain the dying process, face angry and fearful family members, educate on what to expect in a newly diagnosed disease process, miss lunch breaks on 12 hour shifts, watch families ignore their loved own’s wishes, cause pain to heal (i.e. starting I.V.’s, inject lidocaine for suturing or a biopsy sample, place traction to reset bones, administer chemo and radiation, etc.), and miss time with our own families and friends because we are required to work call, every other weekend, and the most random pattern of shift work ever. If we, as care providers, do not do these things, we can be sued or criminally charged for being neglectful or malicious. I can tell you, I did not become a nurse to harm people (and neither did any other care provider I know of)! Our hearts for you, and for the world, are huge! But we have our limits and must discern how much energy any given “hurt” deserves at any given time because the whole world seems to be one big hurting unit.
You see, I think I am more sensitive to how people view my coping skills right now because I have felt the pressure of others to behave a certain way toward my mom and her battle with cancer. People’s perception of how I am handling this life event is probably the same perception they have of me and how I handle the emotional side of being a healthcare provider: calloused, jaded, and maybe even a little too “cool.” Maybe I appear, like those other care providers on Facebook, as calloused or cold hearted because I am not blubbering tears and my sorrows to every person I know. My reactions to tragedies can be calm, collected, and not overly reactionary. But, I have to tell you, my heart hurts for my mom! But my heart does not only hurt for my mom. My heart hurts for every person who walks through the doors of the Emergency Department, lies in a hospital bed, or rolls onto the operating table. The little cuts, the traumas, the coworkers going through divorce, the mentally unstable, they all take energy to care for. Yes, some require a little more “hurt” (empathy) than others, but in the end it is all the same. I am giving little pieces of my heart to you because I genuinely care. I want you to heal! We want you to succeed! If I blubbered, or cried every time my heart hurt, I would be a ball of tears in the corner, maybe even more like a pile of mush, never to rise again. The thing is, humans are good at focusing on the negative, on the sorrows, and on the fear. But if I, and we (collectively as healthcare providers), focus on those 3 things, we cannot function in the capacity in which we are trained. So, we pick ourselves up, focus on the good news people receive, focus on having gratitude, and focus on bringing positive energy in to the world. We laugh at the unlaughable, and sometimes, yes, scream that we are awesome and COOL, because we are COPING.
I will admit up front, this writing is in defense of myself, and of every healthcare provider I know. Maybe it is even a little cathartic, given my current circumstances in life at the moment. However, I hope it is not taken as reactionary, but as an explanation of why we are the way we are. I am willing to “hurt” for you and to keep coming back to work every day to take care of you and your loved ones, but I do pay personal price. I am only human. In so many ways, being a healthcare provider is not something I can separate or compartmentalize as a job out of my life or my personality. It has changed me. It has changed my perception of reality. I am tougher, able to communicate more efficiently, and am more patient. I discovered have more God given compassion flowing through me than I every knew I could distribute. However, I am also more realistic. I understand we are all mortal, and mortality has its boundaries. Reality is: I can only help you if you let me. Reality is: babies are born on the same day another people die. Miracles happen to the least deserving. Then, the most deserving fail to beat the odds. There are 90 year olds who look 70, and 40 year olds who look 100. I have seen people fail, and I have seen people succeed. Sometimes we do not have answers to any of these “whys.” But, life keeps going. People continue needing supported and rescued. Friends continue needing listening ears. Moms need strong daughters. Sisters need role models. I (we) do what I (we ) have to, to pick myself (ourselves) up, daily if necessary, to keep going. Keep doing good. Keep encouraging. Keep saving. Keep educating. Keep laughing. Keep the joy. Keep spreading the positive energy. Keep breathing. Keep the faith in humanity. Keep fulfilling my purpose: to care for people.
If I appear calloused to you by not running around dramatically when shit hits the fan, something tragic occurs, or by posting proud graphic pictures of what we do, and to you that means I think I am cooler (or colder) than you are, then so be it. But remember, perception is driven by reality. Please, before you judge, step into the other person’s shoes, put YOUR expectations of who they should be and what they should be giving or feeling aside. Step into THEIR reality. Linger in that reality, taste it, and see if you could hang. Healthcare providers and caretakers are only human. I am only human. We may appear calloused, but WE CARE. We appear calloused because we CARE, amd we have to KEEP caring and giving.. As I stated above, we are COPING therefore we sometimes appear calloused. (Get the point?) We are holding it together for those who cannot. Did you hear me say, “we are only human?” Maybe we are really just hoping to be understood? It is true, we are not superheroes (insert “suprised” emoji here)! We need hugs and empathy returned our way. We care that people think we care. It would be nice to be understood too. But even if we continue to not be understood, we will keep being there, caring for you, cause that is what “calloused people who think they are cool” do.
My 2 Cents on the Calloused & the Cool
Till next time!
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
Stephen R. Covey
Random blurbs and discussions on topics, issues, and personal sentiments related to the current climate of the nursing profession.