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Running on Empty

Spirituality Article   (29,481 Views 28 Replies 1,019 Words)

jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 100 Articles; 148,440 Profile Views; 411 Posts

There are times in nursing when we begin to run on empty, when our emotional, spiritual and physical resources dry up. This article is a discussion about the importance of continuing to feed our spirits so that we are able to provide the best possible care to our patients.

Running on Empty

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

Tears spilled over as I clicked off my cell phone and started the car, instructing my GPS to take me to my next hospice visit thirty miles away. The tears were not, as you might suppose, out of sadness for the dying patient that I was headed to see; they were instead tears of fatigue and self-pity, of overwork and of frustration.

As I drove, I struggled to re-direct my emotions and to achieve control over all these unwanted feelings that seemed to bubble up from murky depths of discouragement. Deep breaths, calming thoughts, a focus on the particular patient that I was about to see, and a silent prayer, all helped me gather myself to continue to offer the best possible care when I arrived at the home.

Being a professional nurse of many years, I know the signs of compassion fatigue or just fatigue in general. But life is not an idealized parade of lovely patients in an orderly pattern, nicely separated by re-energizing breaks where well-balanced meals suddenly appear, consumed while a favorite selection of music plays in the background. Real life as a nurse looks more like concentrated discipline to stay focused on the needs of the patient, while dismissing or delaying the cacophony of missed messages, equipment failures, scheduling snafus, and documentation demands.

With time and experience, we all learn to prioritize and master the art of offering ourselves without becoming completely depleted--that is, unless you look at days like the one I refer to above. If we are to be honest, we all have days like that one: days where we overextend ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually; days where we give until we are running on empty.

Are you a person that fills up your car's gas tank when it gets half way to empty? Do you wait until the light comes on? Or are you the person who waits until the car sputters a bit before coasting in to the nearest station? As nurses who are also spiritual beings, sometimes we expect to keep running on fumes. We don't take the time we need to in order to fill our spiritual tanks. Instead, we survive on "fast food" of the spirit.

I work as both a Hospice Nurse and as a Parish Nurse. I am usually asked to help with the orientation sessions for the new Parish Nurses. My topic is usually, "Time Management." One of the things I tell the new Parish Nurses is: "Minister out of the overflow." Use your imagination to picture a cup, a chalice. Now pour water into that cup until it runs over, like a fountain. As long as our nursing and care for others comes out of the overflow of our hearts, then we will not run dry. We will continue to be able to give and meet others' needs. But when we stop the in-coming nurture of our own souls and bodies, and begin, instead to dip into the cup itself, then we quickly find ourselves in tears as we ride down the road or the elevator, ready to step out to another shift.

If we keep our lives in balance, then we can be those excellent nurses that we so long to be. It is our work to overcome cynicism, doubt, frustration and to journey on as advocates, compassionate healers who reach forward through the maze of computerized care to see the patient and meet them where they are. We move beyond the chores to the connections, to the real and therapeutic touch.

And we don't give up because it is so hard. Let me tell you something: nursing has always been hard and it always will be. We find reasons to complain--we are human, after all--but truly, we have more technology, more ability to relieve pain and suffering, more treatments and more understanding than ever before. Let's do ourselves and our profession a service by focusing less on what is wrong, and instead maximizing what is good.

Mother Teresa once said, "If you can't feed a hundred, just feed one." The idea that we may not be able to do everything for everybody assaults us daily. But we can make one person's day better. One patient. One co-worker. One environmental services person. Just one.

Being competent and compassionate nurses stems from a balanced life, one that focuses on mind, soul, body--or said another way: if we focus on spiritual nourishment and self-care then our words and deeds will be those of a nurse who is both competent and compassionate. Self-care is not a self-centered, self-absorbed state of mind. It is not the mentality of "I work hard, so I deserve what I take for myself." Instead, it is maintaining a rhythm of giving from the spirit and receiving into the spirit. It is nurturing our whole selves so that we can continue to give.

George Saunders, a contemporary fiction writer, writes, "What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded...sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality--your soul, if you will--is as bright and shining as any that has ever been."

Let us remember that between the twin hills of competency and compassion lies the mountaintop of the true art of nursing. It is a place we all long to do more than just visit. We desire to live there, day in and day out, creating art through our work and making a difference one person at a time.

Joy Eastridge, RN, BSN, CHPN

May 13, 2015

Joy has been a nurse for 35 years, practicing in a variety of settings. Currently, she is a Faith Community Nurse. She enjoys her grandchildren, cooking for crowds and taking long walks.

5 Followers; 100 Articles; 148,440 Profile Views; 411 Posts

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Yes, thank you. My gas light is on as I write this (I mean, in my car, parked outside, as I sit inside)! Sometimes I feel sorry for myself, even ashamed, because I'm not doing enough; I don't feel like I'M enough. Thank you again for this article...it will continue to resonate.

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 100 Articles; 411 Posts; 148,440 Profile Views

Yes, thank you. My gas light is on as I write this (I mean, in my car, parked outside, as I sit inside)! Sometimes I feel sorry for myself, even ashamed, because I'm not doing enough; I don't feel like I'M enough. Thank you again for this article...it will continue to resonate.

Thank you for your comment. I'm glad the article was helpful to you. We all struggle at times in our lives with feeling like we are not capable or competent. May you find ways to re-fuel and to get encouragement so you can carry on.

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tokmom has 30 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Certified Med/Surg tele, and other stuff.

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I wrote my capstone on compassion fatigue and burnout because I knew first hand how they felt. I left the profession for nearly 5 years because of them and I only returned because of financial reasons. I knew I had to change my mindset and start taking care of me, if I was to balance taking care of my family and patients.

Nurses are prone to both compassion fatigue and burnout, just by the nature of our personality. It's what makes us do the job that we love, so well. However, it is a double edge sword and we constantly walk the fine line of becoming fatigued.

I encourage my co-workers to take some "ME" time at home. They need to pamper themselves, say NO to certain projects or family demands. Nurses need to take the time for some soul searching and replenishing.

I have two favorite reflections. One is in my siggy and the other is a Native American quote:

In traditional Native American teaching, it is said that each time you heal someone, you give away a piece of yourself until, at some point, you will require healing.”

~Native American Quote~

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 100 Articles; 411 Posts; 148,440 Profile Views

I wrote my capstone on compassion fatigue and burnout because I knew first hand how they felt. I left the profession for nearly 5 years because of them and I only returned because of financial reasons. I knew I had to change my mindset and start taking care of me, if I was to balance taking care of my family and patients.

Nurses are prone to both compassion fatigue and burnout, just by the nature of our personality. It's what makes us do the job that we love, so well. However, it is a double edge sword and we constantly walk the fine line of becoming fatigued.

I encourage my co-workers to take some "ME" time at home. They need to pamper themselves, say NO to certain projects or family demands. Nurses need to take the time for some soul searching and replenishing.

I have two favorite reflections. One is in my siggy and the other is a Native American quote:

In traditional Native American teaching, it is said that each time you heal someone, you give away a piece of yourself until, at some point, you will require healing.”

~Native American Quote~

Your personal experience make your statements all the more important to process and remember. Thank you for sharing this quote--such truth.

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jojoe has 3 years experience.

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Mother Teresa once said, "If you can't feed a hundred, just feed one." The idea that we may not be able to do everything for everybody assaults us daily. But we can make one person's day better. One patient. One co-worker. One environmental services person. Just one.

Reminds me of a boy throwing one starfish at a time back into the ocean as hundreds lie stranded on the beach only to be told he won't make much of a difference. He replied with "it makes a difference to THIS one" as he throws it back into the water...

Thank you for reminding us to take one day, one task, one effort at a time!

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 100 Articles; 411 Posts; 148,440 Profile Views

Mother Teresa once said, "If you can't feed a hundred, just feed one." The idea that we may not be able to do everything for everybody assaults us daily. But we can make one person's day better. One patient. One co-worker. One environmental services person. Just one.

Reminds me of a boy throwing one starfish at a time back into the ocean as hundreds lie stranded on the beach only to be told he won't make much of a difference. He replied with "it makes a difference to THIS one" as he throws it back into the water...

Thank you for reminding us to take one day, one task, one effort at a time!

I love the starfish story! The power of one is something that mystifies and inspires me. I try to keep it in mind when the dark side of life seems to close in. One, just one. Every day counts and every action toward the good is a tiny ray of life-giving light.

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Rbeck911 is a BSN, RN and specializes in Occupational Health / EMS.

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Good read

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That was so inspiring for me. You have touched on so many things that I have experienced. First, I am an experienced nurse as well. I have worked for over 30 years, and yes sometimes there are tears for many different reasons and not particularly for the "dying." Concerning the gas running out, it all depends on what was going on that day. If I had a hard day and was very tired, then quarter tank will be my cut off to fill up again. I hate running on empty because it make me nervous. See, the point here is that if one constantly runs on empty you never have anything to give. You supported that well with the cup overflowing. Great analogy. Last was about Mother Teresa. You know I called my husband Mother Teresa because he thinks he can do all things to all people at the same time all over the world, but I was encouraged that you quoted that "if you can't help 100 then help one." That was an amazing statement.

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 100 Articles; 411 Posts; 148,440 Profile Views

That was so inspiring for me. You have touched on so many things that I have experienced. First, I am an experienced nurse as well. I have worked for over 30 years, and yes sometimes there are tears for many different reasons and not particularly for the "dying." Concerning the gas running out, it all depends on what was going on that day. If I had a hard day and was very tired, then quarter tank will be my cut off to fill up again. I hate running on empty because it make me nervous. See, the point here is that if one constantly runs on empty you never have anything to give. You supported that well with the cup overflowing. Great analogy. Last was about Mother Teresa. You know I called my husband Mother Teresa because he thinks he can do all things to all people at the same time all over the world, but I was encouraged that you quoted that "if you can't help 100 then help one." That was an amazing statement.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments; I appreciated reading all you had to say. There is a little children's song called, "Fill my cup let it overflow." It comes complete with motions! It often pops up and runs through my brain, reminding me that being a great nurse and living well in general is an intentional, daily process.

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