When grief is in the job description

Happy nurse's week to all the hard-working nurses! The theme for this year's nurses week American Nurse Association is balance of mind, body, and spirit so I thought I would write about a relevant topic. Nurses are notorious for being the worst patients, and also for not putting their own health as a priority. I recently read an article about the rates of diabetes and heart disease are alarmingly high among nurses, hence the theme for this year's nurses week. This does not come as a shock to me, as the long and variable shifts, make eating and sleeping adequately difficult. In addition the stress and emotional toll of the job can worsen poor eating and lack of sleep. What I find is often overlooked in the conversation about the health of the nurse, is the emotional toll witnessing trauma and grief can take on nurses. Recently there has been more attention to PTSD and mental health issues surrounding witnessed trauma by military, police, firefighters, and other first responders. It seems nurses, however are left out of this conversation. I can say from firsthand experience nurses do witness trauma and grief frequently as part of the job. As a new nurse I had little experience with trauma, grief or death. Sure, I had experienced loss and had taken psychology courses that discussed the stages of grief and issues around death and dying, but it is a completely different experience first hand. As a nurse, unlike some other professions, you are often the only person at the bedside when a patient dies. You are often the one handling the paperwork, calling the coroner, arranging for organ donation services, and doing post-mortum care all while answering the questions of the deceased's family and expected to be composed and collected. While working as an ER nurse the hardest part was witnessing unexpected deaths, especially of children and infants. As mentioned previously as a nurse you have to keep going about your job, even when there are hysterical grieving family members. Every hospital or healthcare organization has different policies on debriefing and dealing with traumatic situations that occur.  My experience is that most of the debriefing that occurs is informal and between peers in the breakroom or after the shift is over. I remember one particular hard end of the shift when we had the loss of a five month old baby. The image of the grieving mother still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. After the shift the staff went out for drinks together as we often did, as it was a way to be there for each other after this experience. The majority of my bedside nursing was spent in the ER, however nurses in all settings experience loss of patients and grief on many levels. I remember when I was a nursing student doing my clinical rotation at Children's Hospital, my clinical instructor and preceptor who were seasoned pediatric nurses were telling lots of off colored jokes about the children on the wards. My clinical instructor explained to me later that these jokes were a way to deal with the grief. "Sometimes you have to laugh so you don't cry" she explained. I grew to understand that statement more as I saw more sad cases, loss, and death. The emotional toll does wear on you, and there aren't a lot of resources to help you cope, and thus often to deal with it we use humor or just try to block these experiences out. I think we can do better to support our nurses. I think starting a conversation about how we can support our nurses is a start. I also thought I would share this poem written by an ER nurse I read on NPR on her experience with "compassion fatigue"

Book of the Month Review: How to Party with an Infant


I was supposed to have finished How to Party With an Infant by April, however I've fallen a bit behind on my schedule. The delay in this review however, worked out for the best as the theme of the book is timely for Mother's Day.  This was one of the rare times I chose a book upon the title alone. It came up on an Amazon search, and I thought judging by the title this would be a humerus read about parenting which would help pass the time  during my maternity leave.  The protagonist of this novel,  Mele is surprised with an unexpected pregnancy, but even more so when the baby's father announces he is engaged to someone else. As a newly single mom residing in San Francisco, she struggles to find her place among the affluent helicopter moms who wear Hermes and hire preschool consultants,  but eventually finds a band of misfit parents in the San Francisco Mom's Club that she clicks with that have no problem drinking wine from plastic cups at the park during play dates. The every day struggles of parenthood are cleverly told through stories from her parent group members which Mele uses as inspiration for recipes in a cookbook competition hosted by the San Francisco Mom's club. The is a light read, but candidly illuminates the many challenges of parenting, from teenage rebellion and toddler tantrums, to co-parenting with someone who broke your heart to explaining heavy issues of death and racism to your children.  I appreciated these comical but poignant stories, which often hit the nail on the head on the many paradoxical emotions that come with being a parent. I also could relate to Mele's search to fit in and find a place in the parenting community. For myself finding a group of parents to fit in with hasn't been exactly easy. More on that in this post. As much as I enjoyed the earnestness and humor of this novel, at the end the plot took a real nosedive, in my opinion. Mele ends up starting a romantic relationship with one of the fathers from her parent group. This dad, Henry, is a wealthy retiree and has three kids, two teenagers and a two year old with his current wife (yes still married when they start their relationship). Although Henry's wife is having an affair, he is still very much married and not even near divorce at the time they spark their relationship. I was disappointed with this plot line because it shifted the focus off of Mele's journey into motherhood and becoming a stronger person, and more to her being rescued by a wealthy man. Furthermore, the stories from her parent group were entertaining enough on their own without having to add this cheesy love interest in the mix. The ending was a let down for me, but I would still recommend this as a quick enjoyable read, especially for any new moms.