Burn out

I had a nurse shadowing me that was applying for a position in radiology. She seemed very nice and very knowledgeable. She is currently working at the bedside and decided it was time for a change. We began conversing about the job I currently do and how different it was from bedside nursing. Let’s be honest, my job can have chaotic moments but for the most part it is chill. I wanted to hear more about what made her want to transfer into our department.

Surprise, surprise… She was burned out. She started sharing why she was burned out. She felt unappreciated. She felt mentally exhausted. She was frustrated. I knew exactly how she felt. We swapped stories of our nights of hell. She was curious as to what made me leave the ICU and transfer to radiology. I was honest… I was burned the hell out at the bedside! I worked bedside for eight years. Eight years of endlessly cleaning poop, call bells ringing simultaneously, angry family members, unsafe staffing ratios, little to no lunch break, and management asking “did you update you white boards?”. I realized I was just over it. Now I will say this: I loved working in the STICU. It was hell on wheels some nights but I learned so much.

And that’s the thing, I feel like walking through the nursing “flames” made me a better and more rounded nurse. At this point I can handle just about anything you can throw at me. Being a beside nurse is what really made me a good nurse. While it was stressful, I don’t think I would change anything if I could go back in time and do so. However, I realized I was done and exited bedside nursing stage left.

I recognized I was burned out. I felt it. I could see the change in my patient and family interactions. I literally drove to work with anxiety because I just KNEW the night was going to be a sh*t show. I had to take benadryl just to sleep. Things were not okay. So I made a change. It looks like she is ready to make a change. I commend her for recognizing that. In fact, I commend any nurse that recognizes they have reached the burn out stage. More than that I deeply respect nurses that not only recognize they are burned out, they start making the necessary changes to beat burn out. Know when you feel burned out, it is okay. It is just fine to leave the situation you’re in. You are not running. You are not “abandoning” anyone. You are doing what is best for you.

Have any of you (nurse or not) ever had to leave your job because you knew it was making you miserable?

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The future

What do you think we will see in the future with medicine? We seem to be making advances everyday. To me, that is a great thing. The further we advance, the better we can treat.

I have been a nurse now for eight years and just in this amount of time I have seen medications be introduced and then recalled for some side effect they weren’t anticipating. We now have a cure, a cure for hepatitis C! How wonderful is that? I have seen advances in procedures. I have been trained on new medical equipment because what we were using was considered obsolete. I can only imagine the changes nurses that have been working for decades have witnessed. I would love to just sit and listen to some of those stories!

Of all the advances there is one that I am waiting for most of all: a cure for cancer. I lost my mother and my grand-mother to cancer. I talk to patients all day that are here to get scans to check if their cancer has come back or spread. It is personal to me. I want cancer gone. I don’t want to see another child with a brain tumor. I don’t want to see another woman with breast cancer. I don’t want to see another man with prostate cancer. I wish cancer could get cancer and die.

I have this naïve little hope that in the next ten years or so someone, somewhere, is going to be the one to achieve that break through. I have this hope that I will turn on the news and hear the broadcaster say “scientists have finally found a cure for cancer!”. I keep hoping that the cure will happen in my lifetime.  I am only 35, I hopefully have plenty of years left in me. Come on scientist, do this favor for me ok?!

Preceptor behavior (how not to be an asshole)

I have been the orientee and I have even done a little precepting. I lucked out so far and had wonderful preceptors (except for one but anyway…) but I have seen some TERRIBLE preceptors.

One thing that I noticed from a few of the preceptors that I would definitely label as “assholes”, is that they take pride in being intimidating to their orientee. I have witnessed this behavior and have had other nurse confide in me about their preceptors after they were out of orientation. Some of the things I heard were appalling.

It is NEVER okay to make your orientee feel “dumb” or “stupid”. You were a new nurse at one time and you didn’t know everything when you started, you had to be taught as well. You know what else is not okay? It’s not okay to just leave your orientee to fend for themselves. You are not on vacation, you are responsible for teaching this new employee the ways of your unit. Get up and check on them, make sure that they are actually alright. STOP USING THE AMBUSH TECHNIQUE!!! For those of you that don’t know what the ambush technique is, let me fill you in on this bs. Basically what happens is the preceptor ambushes the orientee when they aren’t prepared for it and starts hammering them with questions of “things they should already know” in the eyes of the preceptor. Do I know the normal range for a CVP? Yes, I do. Do I know the normal range for a CVP when you show up out of nowhere, while I am catching up on charting on a patient that I just had to start on norepinephrine and give two units of blood? No, absolutely f*****g not! This does not mean I am less intelligent than you, it means I was focused on my charting and not expecting a nursing ambush! The ambush technique neither proves nor disproves someone knowledge, it just makes you look like a douche. While we are at it, stop making your orientee feel like they are bothering you when they ask you questions. They don’t know. You do. Spread the wealth of knowledge. Learn how to give constructive criticism and praise. A lot of preceptors seem to miss that last part. Your orientee is already paranoid and trying to be a close to perfect as possible. Let them know you notice the good things they do along with the things they may need to work on. Your orientee will be much more receptive of your criticism, trust me.

Look, i’m not asking for a lot. I am simply asking you to remember what it was like when you were orienting. Remember how stressed you felt. Remember how confused you were. Remember how intimidating it was. Remember that you aren’t perfect.

n00b

So you’re the newest person on the unit. You may not be new to nursing but you are new to this place. Don’t let that freak you out.

As the newbie I was always really quiet and reserved. What I didn’t realize was how off-putting that was to others. It never failed, once I got to know my coworkers they would all say the same thing “I thought you were so mean when I first met you!” For the longest time I didn’t understand why that seemed to be the case. You know me though, if I don’t know then I’m going to ask. That is when I found out that I sort of appeared unapproachable because of how I tended to distance myself from my new coworkers. I changed that once I started the new position I am currently in. This time I made a conscious effort to get to know my coworkers.

Here are a few steps to transition into your new work environment:

  • Introduce yourself to your new coworkers. If you know of a good ice breaker then use it (having the name Shaunelle but being called Fred is one hell of an ice breaker, everyone loves the story of how I got my nickname.)
  • If you are an experienced nurse understand this: your experience is much appreciated but you are the new nurse on the unit. Don’t walk around like you already know everything there is to know. You may know cardiac ICU but you don’t know how they run their cardiac ICU. Have a little humility (ran into this with a new coworker, she didn’t last long).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is safer to ask than to assume you know what you are doing and then do it wrong. Your new coworkers will remember that screw up, trust me.
  • If you are a super proactive person, join one of the committees. You are bound to meet your coworkers that way.
  • Become familiar with your physicians and introduce yourself to them. Let them know you are new to the unit, I mean you will be working with them too.
  • Know that not everyone is going to warm up to you immediately and that’s okay. They may still be “feeling you out” so to speak. That is not your problem, that is theirs. They’ll either come around or they won’t. It’s not the end of your world. However, DO NOT allow bullying behavior towards you. You may be the newbie but you deserve respect and if they want it from you then they should earn it. Forget that “nurses eat their young crap”!

Those first few weeks, hell even first few months, are a weird time. You’re trying to adjust to a whole new setting. Things may feel off and that is normal. You may feel a little out of place at first, and that’s normal too. Give yourself time to get acclimated to your new surroundings, you are going to do great!

Constantly learning

A little while back, while I was still a STICU nurse, I decided to start a little notebook where I would right down new diseases/diagnoses/medications I came across during my shifts so I could look them up and learn about them. I was afraid when I transitioned into an imaging nurse I was not going to really be “learning” anything new. I’m just going to start IV’s and monitor for contrast reactions.

I was wrong.

People get MRI’s for all kinds of reasons. I have probably come across more diseases that I have never heard of in this position than I had the whole time I was in the ICU.

It’s been a constant learning experience. I start looking up the disease the patient is diagnosed with (which is the reason they are coming to MRI in the first place), and that leads me to another related disease, which leads to a new study, which leads to a med I have never heard of, and so on.

I’d never heard of MGUS, plastic bronchitis, or a syrinx. Came across all of those in MRI. I assumed that I need to be bedside to learn anything new in nursing. That’s not the case at all. As long as you are providing patient care you never really stop learning…

Nursing and mental health

Nursing and mental health go hand and hand. Nursing is hard. Nursing is hard not just physically but emotionally. We hold everything in because we are the ones that are supposed to help. We heal. We often forget that we can sometimes be the ones that need healing.

I was diagnosed with depression years ago, years before I became a nurse. I was placed on meds that I no longer take, I’ll explain why later on. Nursing school didn’t help, it just kept me so busy that I couldn’t take a moment to acknowledge the depression. Nursing, especially in a hospital that I hated, added anxiety attacks to the picture. I would wake up at night in a panic without being able to pinpoint why. That made me feel worse. I felt like an idiot for panicking over nothing, which made me hate myself even more. It was a downward spiral.

Before nursing school, when I first voiced suicidal ideation, my parents sent me to therapy. That is when I first received the diagnosis of depression (my mother died when I was 16, I watched her take her last breaths, I shut down big time). I was placed on trazodone and Zoloft. I hated it. I went from feeling depressed to feeling nothing at all. So I stopped taking both of them (don’t be like me) and instead stuck to therapy. It worked for me. She helped me come up with other ways to manage my mental illness. It worked for quite a while. Then enter nursing school and full-time nursing. I ended up back in therapy but due to my schedule I just couldn’t keep up with it. Hey, I’m a nurse, I can figure this out on my own. I’m tough. I’m a fixer. I’m a healer. I help everyone else so why can’t I help myself?

I am my own worst enemy.

I wear a smile for my patients and my coworkers. I am happy Fred the nurse. I’ve got a smile and a joke. My patients love me. My coworkers love me. Everyone believes I am ok. I look like I’m ok. I also spend most of my off days sleeping, I’m talking 12-13 hours. I don’t want to leave the house unless it’s to get food. I isolate myself from my friends, my brother is my roommate and he may not see me the whole day. I have dark thoughts that I know I should not be having. I wake up with my heart pounding feeling like some unknown thing is wrong and if I don’t fix it the world will implode. I am Fred the nurse and I have depression. I am Fred the nurse and I am not strong enough to battle this alone. I am Fred the nurse and I am strong enough to know that I need therapy again. I am Fred the nurse and I will get out of my own way. I am Fred the nurse and I will be ok.

 

Go pee!

Hey… Hey you, busy nurse, go pee!

I know you have a blood sugar to grab. I know your other patient wants his 250th cup of ice. Yes, someone has labs due as well. Go pee. Seriously. It’s OK. All those things that you need to do will be there when to get back. I’m sure there is someone you can delegate some of your tasks to. You have to take a moment for yourself.

Go pee. Your bladder will thank you.

Bad news

Yay, she is eating more today!

(We have some bad news)

She managed to walk from the room to the nurses’ station!

(We have some bad news)

Her labs look a whole lot better today. I think the bleeding has stopped.

(We have some bad news)

I think we may be able to move her out of the ICU today.

(We have some bad news)

She looks like she might be able to be discharged today!

(We have some bad news)

The cervical cancer is back. It’s stage four and its’ metastasized to the liver. There is nothing we can do. We can give her palliative chemo which may give her another 3-6 months or she can go palliative.

She chose to go palliative. She came home and passed away months later in her bed. I was 16. She was 41. She was my mother. October 18th will make 18 years since she passed away. It still hurts just as bad now as it did then. Fuck cancer. Fuck how it destroys people. Fuck how it destroys families. Fuck the pain it causes people. Fuck how it attacks old and young. Fuck cancer.

 

Self-care and nursing

You are a nurse. Your job is to take care of everyone else. When do you take care of you? As nurses, we are so conditioned to take care of others that we may feel guilty focusing on ourselves. That’s not fair to you.

At some point, you run out of steam. If you keep giving and giving but receiving nothing in return, you will become empty. An empty nurse is a dangerous nurse. An empty nurse can barely take care of themselves much less anyone else.

An empty nurse lacks empathy. An empty nurse stops caring. An empty nurse has nothing left of themselves to give.

THIS IS WHY SELF-CARE IS SO IMPORTANT! You cannot take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself. You have to practice self-care. You need to take moments to do things that you like to do. Like to shop? There is a lovely flea market on Saturday, go check it out. Like to cook? Well, whip it up chef! Like to sleep? You enjoy that nap like you’re still in kindergarten. Do whatever it is that makes you happy. You have to. You are just as important as anyone else. Your sanity matters. Imagine how much better you will feel. Imagine how much happier you will be. Imagine how much energy you will have to be the best nurse you can be. You are worth the time.

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DNR vs Comfort Care

I have heard DNR and comfort care used interchangeably, especially by doctors. One is not the other!

DNR: Do not resuscitate. It is exactly what it says, you do not try life-saving measures in the event of a code situation. This does not imply that you stop caring for a patient. DNR does not mean “do not treat”! You will continue to provide patient care. You will hang medications for their blood pressure if it is dangerously low. You will more than likely continue to draw labs as well. You will still treat this patient pretty much like any other unless the patient, or their medical POA (power of attorney), tells you otherwise. One thing you must be aware of is whether or not the patient has exceptions to their DNR. Some may say that in the event of a code they want code medications but no chest compressions or intubation. Some people may say meds and intubation are fine but no chest compressions. I have even seen meds and compressions but no intubation (which leaves you wondering but hey, it’s what they want.)

Comfort Care: This is what most people think a DNR is. Just keep them comfortable until they pass on their own. At this point, you are no longer going to escalate care. In fact, you will more than likely begin to scale back dramatically the amount of care you provide. Typically the only medications you will give will be pain medications like morphine and maybe a few breathing treatments to help ease their work of breathing. For the most part, you are there as support for the family if needed, and to assure that your patient dies with dignity.

Please, for the sake of your patient, understand the difference. If you need to clarify with the patient or POA then do so. You don’t want to wait until the patient is near death to try and figure out what the patient actually wants.