I need to start this blog by saying that these times do try us. I completely understand this as I continue to care for others in what is rapidly becoming the most tenacious public health disaster of my nearly 40 years in nursing.
Last week, as I searched the aisles of the local grocery store looking for tasty, nutritious items to pack for lunches, I happened across a man wearing a run-of-the-mill black hoodie. It was a remarkably benign piece of clothing until he turned to face me.
Written in big, bold white letters across the front of his chest were the words, “F*CK YOUR FEELINGS.”
Wow, right? I quickly re-routed my grocery cart and scurried to the opposite end of the store to give myself time to mull this over. The sentiment blazed across his sweatshirt is the polar opposite of my core beliefs and practices.
I wondered, is this the new culture? If you espouse this idea, do you want your feelings disregarded, too? What does the end goal of broadcasting this notion look like? Is there a cost-benefit ratio to this philosophy?
Fast forward to yesterday when I was chatting with a colleague about various challenges we’ve experienced of late. She is a remarkable nurse—caring, practical, smart, energetic, and has an impressive work ethic.
“I have lost a lot of my compassion,” she offered as we were talking. What? This is grave self-awareness. The whole notion of a health care provider “losing their compassion” deserves more than a casual unpacking.
Compassion is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.
I believe that compassion is one of the most critical cornerstones that health care workers bring to their practice. I understand that metrics, efficiency, balance sheets, and money are all quite important in the health care business, but they do not make a sturdy foundation. Those pieces do not embody the spirit of healing; compassion does.
You cannot put a price tag on the value of simply being present and holding the hand of a distraught parent who has just lost a child to a drug overdose or sitting with and attending to the anxious person who has recently been admitted to hospice care. Nor can you monetize the importance of working diligently to ease the pain and nausea of a fresh postoperative patient.
Those of us who work on the frontlines have the privilege and burden of being with and supporting those we serve as they navigate life-changing events. Often, the best resource that we have to offer at those moments is our compassion. I wager that we all have vignettes branded into our souls and memories of these moments in our careers.
Sometimes, compassion is all that we have to give.
If those who work in health care are asked, many of us would respond that we are challenged by the times in which we practice. Moral injury, burnout, and a loss of compassion are all exhausting–as I said, these times do try us.
The trip to the grocery store offered much more to me than fresh fruits and vegetables; it also gave me a sharp look at a malignancy that will not serve any of us well, now or in the future.
The “f*ck your feelings” philosophy, boldly displayed, benefits no one in the long run. It spreads its nasty tentacles in a poisonous path. The result is a compassion-killing culture. This is not an environment that is sustainable for either caregivers or the recipients of their services.
What has been lost can often be found.
The first step is key: We need to join together in a sustained effort to support and provide care in a compassionate manner. This needs to be done for our healing culture and to assist those working in the trenches.
In the meantime, my colleagues and I will continue on, hoping that society throws a bit of compassion in our direction. After all, sometimes, the biggest gift that we can offer or receive is a generous dollop of compassion.
Life is still glorious in all of its messy turbulence. Try looking at experiences and situations from a perspective other than your own. Step away from blaming and judgment. We each bring a unique and beautiful gift to health care. How we treat and support each other is important – use a little compassion.
June Garen is a nurse and author of Hey! I Could Use a Little Help Here! My Story of Healthcare Workplace Violence.
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