I’m a Nurse and I Miss The Joy I Used To Feel
As an ER nurse, I am more nervous than ever for the future of our hospitals. When I say this, I am not referring to the catastrophic outcomes that have devastated so many patients and their family’s lives. I am talking about the abuse this pandemic has beaten down our staff with by hurling unrelenting punches in successive order; and I am worried about how hospitals will respond to this crisis.
For the first time in my career, I am seeing nurses, doctors, techs, and a myriad of other ancillary staff express an anger towards some of the patient’s we are caring for. There are staff members that are verbalizing frustration and disdain directed at patients as a result of exhaustion.
Under normal circumstances, many healthcare workers use dark humor and sarcastic banter directed at patients as a coping mechanism. But right now there is no comedic goal woven into the words I am hearing at work. There is anger, frustration, exhaustion, and apathy. My friends around the country are so burnt out; they have lost their desire to pour their hearts into this job because it keeps sucking the life out of them.
Walking around the hospital hallways, I miss the joy. I miss the spark. I miss seeing my friends come alive after a meaningful patient interaction. I miss feeling supported. I miss the days when we talked about the headlines in one another’s lives instead of the headlines on the news. I miss seeing each other’s smiles.
Compassion fatigue, defined as “the physical and mental exhaustion and emotional withdrawal experienced by those that care for sick or traumatized people over an extended period of time,” is slowly killing the future of nursing. Although this has always had disastrous ramifications for any nurse throughout their career, we are seeing unprecedented amounts of nurses fleeing the bedside because they can no longer deal with the secondary trauma related to our work. Understaffed and overworked has just become the new normal. Nurses have been refused vacation time, mandated overtime, forced to care for double the patient load, and required to work on new units. The disruptions in supply chains have made our jobs increasingly more challenging as we have to adapt to new materials and add extra steps to already complicated processes.
Regardless of an individual’s personal opinion on the vaccine, both sides have felt the shift from being “essential” to being “expendable.” Some nurses feel personally disrespected as unvaccinated patient’s charge into our hospitals demanding that we save their lives. Other nurses fear losing their jobs after loyally serving a given institution for their entire career. The compounded amount of tension on top of an already stressful job has already pushed many nurses away from the bedside and in some hospitals has caused a division among their own staff.
The REAL Nursing Shortage
The spring and early summer weeks gave us time to imagine what life might be like when this is all over. But, I worry that entering into another round of continually living in “fight or flight” mode in the hospitals will eventually use up all the reserve that some nurses have to give. Hospitals are currently treading water. They are unable to fill their hundreds of open clinical positions, older nurses that remained in the fight to get us through the initial wave are now retiring, new nurses coming into the profession have not been able to receive the same level of experience that they should, and the health of their current staff is declining at the rates COVID is increasing.
As the months and years ahead begin to unfold, I am confident that the term “nursing shortage” will be thrown around like a football on a beach day.
Let me be very clear. It is not that there is a shortage of nurses in this country. It is that there is a shortage of facilities that have been able to provide adequate working conditions throughout this pandemic to retain their staff. I fear for the endless ramifications this will have on my future in this profession.
But perhaps my greatest fear is this.
That in a few years when one of your family members is hospitalized, they will be missing out on some of the kindest, most compassionate, gracious, and attentive nurses because this pandemic pushed them away from the bedside. So America, please help do your part to end this. And please, be kind to my friends across the country who continue to show up despite having a tank that is well below empty.
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