December 21, 2016

Self Care For Those Who Care For Others


Nursing is a profession I fell in love with as a young girl, and I still have googly eyes for this role even in my thirties. It's a job that sustains me emotionally and is a passion of mine. But, one large issue I have with the profession is its lack of support regarding the human condition of the caregiver. As nurses, we care for patients and their family members, but many of us lack the ability to care for ourselves. We will go to the point of exhaustion for our patients, but we don't have that same fire when it comes to our own health. I find it funny that I can open a nursing journal and be educated in depth on alarm fatigue and the occupational hazards of the nursing profession, but no one has touched on the lack of support regarding breaks. Whether you are in critical care or obstetrics, I get messages from many people who can't take a break for one reason or another. Yes, some people would say this is simply a time management issue, but it's not. In my opinion, if more than 80% of individuals are complaining about a matter, they all can't hold the same character deficiency. If you're a nurse struggling with finding time to just to be human, I have one suggestion for you - plan ahead.

As nurses, we enter a medical setting with particular objectives in mind. We are aware that healthcare can be chaotic and unpredictable, so we arm ourselves with skills. Think of us like Liam Neeson in that movie Taken. We grab our stethoscopes and pen lights, and we do our jobs with pinpoint accuracy. In order to suitably care for ourselves, we must guide that same determination inward. An hour before you head off to work, make sure your nursing bag is packed with your lunch, snacks, and any medications or vitamins you might need. The goal is to have all your must-have items available to you so they're within reach and available. Trust me, I've been there. It's 2 AM, I'm working the night shift, and all that is available are vending machine options. It's all about convenience, and you will avoid making bad choices by planning ahead. Plus, running to the break room to heat up some food takes less time than heading to the cafeteria, buying food, bringing the food up to your unit's break room, and enjoying your meal. Not preparing ahead of time might actually make eating impossible and an unattainable event.

This “planning ahead of time” concept doesn't pertain to nutrition only. It can apply to bathroom breaks and personal breaks as well. There have been many times where I wanted to use the restroom but had to wait because my patient had an upcoming procedure, or I was waiting for a call from a physician and didn't want to miss it. I learned early on to plan my moments of escape with a co-worker. A simple comment like, "Can you watch my patients for five minutes while I go take a break?" did wonders. Weird huh? Yeah, well healthcare is that intense. As a nurse, you don't get to go to the bathroom and hope everything goes well, not in critical care anyway. I've seen vasopressor drips run dry and patients fall all in the matter of seconds it took the nurse to step out for a bite to eat or to take a quick bathroom break. I'm not saying your request has to be formal. You just need to verbalize what you need. You can ask a nurse near you to watch your patients for five minutes. Give a simple report and go take care of yourself. If everyone is busy, go and ask the charge nurse. I know it's annoying that you even have to do this, but as the French say, "C'est la vie." Healthcare requires diligence and a precise attention to detail, and that doesn't change because you want to eat. Patients need around the clock monitoring, carve out some time for yourself. Yes, getting a break might require negotiation with co-workers and you might even get the run-around from folks, but respect your health and wellbeing enough to do all of that.

In the end, it comes down to taking care of yourself by being proactive and not reactive. We can complain and bicker about not being able to take breaks, but without a game plan, we have no hope. Understand the role you chose and have the proper tools with you to be successful. Your family loves you and needs you around as long as possible - don't ignore your own body and its needs. We all know how a neglected body can cause havoc further down the road. You're a nurse - use that same knowledge base to remain healthy.