For about a month now, I've been on a collision course with caregiver compassion fatigue. I don't make things up--there is such a thing. It's the usual post holiday rush in my line of work that wears down my soul. I get annoyed with minor calls and my colleague's own frazzled demeanor. I swear, she asks for a lot of help from me, and I never say no, but when I ask for help in return, it seems no is all I hear. Truly, I feel like one more thing out of the ordinary, or one more person who tells me no, and I am going to snap. This scenario won't be pretty. It didn't help that my long weekends off over the holidays were spent nursing myself back to health. I was sick as I could be, and still I worked, cooked and delivered a holiday as well as I could manage. It wasn't the best, but it wasn't the worst, either.
Feeling better after New Year's day, I returned to work to find the the post holiday rush to sign onto hospice in full swing. Nearly everyone waits--while suffering--to sign onto our service because they all, understandably, want one more Christmas. As a consequence of waiting, pain and other symptoms worsen and suffering seems to take superhuman nursing skills to repair. I can't blame them for waiting, but one would think the powers that be would plan on this annual occurrence and be better prepared with staffing. Not so, my friends. We all do that much more work because sooner or later, a calm will descend upon us and work will get back to normal. Like every year, this rush will end, but that doesn't help me much as I drown in the trenches. I feel my job is making me stressed out and sick.
About two days ago, I developed heartburn so intense, for a minute or two, I considered it might be a heart attack in the making. It went away with pepcid only to return the next day with a vengeance. Am I getting an ulcer? Might be. I can tell you one thing, I dread the march of my day toward 4PM. I'm overwhelmed, but we all are. Today as I ate dinner, because I did get time for that today, I realized I didn't have time for dinner last night. I worked 9 hours straight without a break. Maybe my heartburn is a sign I'm neglecting myself.
Tonight, still feeling the burn, I popped another pepcid and went to my start of shift assignment, searching hard for my compassion before I got there. I prayed to God that He would fill me up just one more time to get me through the night. Throughout my two and a half hour visit, I felt sort of numb and not my usual self, but I got through it without showing my feelings. I wasn't home ten minutes when the phone rang with a plea for help for someone who has had a change in condition. The family didn't want to talk through it, but wanted a visit. Now. Resigned to my fate for the night, I put one foot in front of the other.
I piled myself and all of my gear into the car and drove 35 miles, stopping along the way to deliver supplies to yet another client who couldn't wait until morning for something they could indeed wait until morning to receive. One annoyance piled atop another. When I got to my primary destination, I was angry because I couldn't find the apartment building. The weather was bad and unable to see well, I drove off the road and onto grass thinking I was in a parking lot. If I hadn't been in my SUV, I'd have been stuck. I finally found the building tucked in an out of the way spot and walked about 500 yards from the only available parking space--in the sleet (carrying supplies)--and as I did, I stewed. The acid in my stomach burned, but couldn't match the heat of my temper. I felt I was losing it, and friends, this just isn't me. I am usually the calm in a hospice stormy sea.
I'd reached the point of no return and prayed again for help in letting all of it go before I reached that door, but it didn't improve my outlook. There was no immediate calm or answer to my prayer. Disappointed and in despair, I entered this apartment where I found my patient surrounded by a dozen gospel singers belting out my favorite gospel song, How Great Thou Art.
Great? Yes, indeed.
Tonight as I write this--with the dog and my laptop vying for space on my lap--I'm pondering the message I received. I cannot shake the vision I encountered tonight, nor the voices of that beautiful angelic choir rocking the house. I've never seen nor heard the likes of this in my three years of hospice nursing, and while the twelve men and women were there to sing for her, my patient, I think they were also meant to be there for me and my heart is filled with love. Once again, there are no accidents in my line of work. I was sent to that patient by a power greater than me.
I am humbled, thankful and ready for another day.