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Kelsea1214 Kelsea1214 (New Member) New Member

The Nurse Empath

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This raw and honest self-reflection highlights the emotional toll we as nurses take on, particularly at the bedside, and how we can better recognize this within ourselves. It may leave you asking yourself “how is my own emotional wellbeing at work?”. How can we improve the emotional burden we take on as bedside nurses?

The Nurse Empath

I wonder if every nurse feels as much like a sponge as I do. Does every nurse get random flashbacks of that patient two years ago whose hand you held as he took his last breath? Or of how you watched the love of his life, the stoic and statuesque woman by his side, literally collapse like a house of cards onto his frail chest, sobbing for them both to go back to the first time they met? Does every nurse then remember how your mind wandered in that moment to the patient in the adjoining room, who is incessantly ringing her call bell because you forgot to get her that vanilla pudding you promised her 30 minutes ago? Does every nurse get into their car at the completion of that shift, turn their ignition on, pause and exhale for the first time that day? Am I the only one who is a weeping sponge?

I left my second-degree nursing program a freshly packaged sponge, ready to absorb all of the knowledge a career in nursing had to offer me. I was neat and tidy and dirt-free. Literally the underside of my new fancy clogs had never touched the surface of a hospital floor. As I walked through my first year as a nurse, my shoes got a little dirtier and I became a little more saturated with emotion. I cried ALOT. I had never seen someone die before, let alone be the one administering that last dose of morphine. I never before had to watch the dreams of a teenage boy be ripped right out of his hands because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A gunshot wound to his abdomen would obstruct him from playing college football and he would lose that full ride to the prestigious university. He tells his crying mom that "everything will be okay" and only when she leaves the room does he break down in front of me. How much emotion can one sponge absorb? Who will wring us out?

I began my most recent nursing position as a system wide float nurse with a new vigor and a new promise to myself-to no longer be a sponge. Oh how naive I was. I was approximately two seconds into this new position before I flung myself back into the treacherous, emotional waters of healthcare. I can't help myself-I'm an empath. What I've learned over the years is that self-awareness is key and this requires self-reflection. Think back on your best and worst days in your career. What worked and what didn't? Jot those things down. Reflect on what is most important to you in your work life. What are your non-negotiables? Two of mine are work culture and my own mental and emotional health. I know I need a break from the bedside and my chapter in bedside nursing may be shorter than some others. Guess what? That's okay!

We cannot help the people around us if we ourselves are bleeding out. Take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. One of the first people I reached out to when I knew my emotional wellbeing was at stake was my current manager. He is a tremendous listener and support system-I knew he'd have my back. For me, this chapter hasn't all been bleak. I've met some fantastic people whose stories have inspired me, and they've helped to wring me out along the way. We the nurses, the sponges of healthcare, go from room to room tidying up life's little messes. We absorb. I am a weeping sponge and it is time for me to wring myself out. Don't be afraid to recognize if it is your time, too.

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PCU RN with experience in SDU, Trauma, Cardiac and Travel nursing looking to make the jump out of the bedside and in to...?

1 Follower, 1 Article, 2,019 Visitors, and 46 Posts.

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Bedside nursing is hard for a number of reasons but can most definitely take its toll on one emotionally. We see and experience things that are on the scale from very good to very bad, and you never know which it will be. I worked in Oncology/Palliative and was like you until I realized that I needed to step back because I was getting too emotionally involved. Example: Other nurses would attend the funerals of our patients but I just could not bring myself to do that, I needed better boundaries for my own well being. We each know our own personal limitation boundaries and that is (like you said) perfectly OK, and not only OK but good! You are right, we cannot care for others while neglecting our own body, soul, and spirit.

Thank-you for sharing your story and wishing you well/wellness in your next endeavor!

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I think it's courageous of you to recognize this truth about yourself after relatively little time being bombarded by thoughts of "shoulds" and many years in futility trying to make that expectation happen. I do have a few "like it happened yesterday" patient memories in some cases from decades ago, but have been able to set them aside when I need to and distance myself, not through any will of my own, though.

How fortunate you are to have your current manager. Managers like that are becoming a rarity these days.

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Oh, my gosh, I wish this post had been around when I was nursing. I too am an empath and it cost me dearly, as I was unable to "wring myself out" completely and I ended up losing my career because---among other reasons---I couldn't manage my stress. I felt so alone, like I was the only nurse who couldn't leave it at the door when I went home. I didn't talk to my fellow nurses about it because I thought it was my fault, and that they would judge me for being too emotional.

Now that I've been out for awhile, I realize that being an empath was what made me a good nurse. I was able to be there for patients and their loved ones when they needed someone to guide them through a scary procedure or a difficult diagnosis; I also got to see it when people got better and went home. It was good to be part of their lives for that moment in time, even though it sometimes tore me up inside. I'm older and wiser now, but if I were ever to go back into nursing I don't think time would make much of a difference...I'd probably still be a sponge, soaking up everything and having difficulty processing all of it.

Good article!

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I worked in the ER for just over 9 years and I cannot tell you how many times I could feel what my patients felt. I felt the fears, hopes and desperation of so many I lost count in the first year. I could "feel" the frustrations of my fellow nurses and knew when they needed to de-stress. When I would leave work after an uneventful night I would just sit for several minutes, then throw on some music and head home but after a bad night I would get the others to gather and let them vent about the night. I talked them through the events until they felt relaxed and then we would head home. I would hold those tears until I was alone, allowing myself to feel all the emotions that I absorbed all night, analyzing each one and putting it into a little cubby hole until I was once again on an even keel. Being an empath is tough and can be a help or hinderance depending on the setting. Feeling what your patient feels and their family/friends feel can be overwhelming but it can also help when the problem is emotional at its core. Overdoses that are doing it for attention, for example. When you walk into that room and feel the smugness of the patient and the desperation of the parent you have more ability to know how to treat that patient. Or how to tell a family that their daughter succeeded with the gunshot to the head and be prepared for the families emotional needs.

I finally faced the fact that I was an empath while in nursing school and had to do my psych at a VA unit with veterans suffering from PTSD. I was warned that they would not talk to me because they would not talk to the Doctor. Funny. By the time I was finished with psych every instructor in the school was pressing me to go into psych nursing and I said NO. From the beginning I intended to go into the ER where the "feelings" would be easier to deal with as so many of the patients were quick turn arounds and the more serious patients I would have more time with but only for one night.

Being an empath means you "feel" the other persons feelings and in a few cases their pain. Being an empath means you have to have a balanced attitude and a good control of your own emotions. Being an empath can be difficult but having a child that is an empath is just a pain in general. I talked my oldest son out to going into nursing, one of the reasons I did was because he is an empath too. He has not yet had the experience of not only feeling the other persons emotional pain but their physical pain and I hope he never does. Of course it gets interesting when either one of us is in a bad mood as it always ends with both of us upset or doing silly things to try and dispel the others bad mood.

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