When It Hurts Too Much To Care

Sara opened the door to her rusting, maroon 2003 Ford Taurus and slid sideways into the empty driver’s seat. “Wow,” she thought, “sitting down has never felt so good!” She raised a cup of hot, steaming coffee to her lips, sipping slowly as not to burn her mouth. She then allowed her head to sink softly into the headrest in an attempt to relax and clear her thoughts. A tear appeared in the corner of her right eye and began to trickle down her cheek. Another nightmare shift had come and gone at the local community hospital where Sara was employed as a registered nurse.

The past several weeks have proven extremely busy for the unit where Sara works. Patients are very sick, demanding more of her than any of the previous clients she could remember. One of her favorite patients died, while others continue to struggle with the pain and nuances of their chronic conditions, lack of family and social support, depression, and fear. New processes and computer updates are coming weekly as attempts are made to streamline care, meet quality and critical indicators, and save money. A colleague took unexpected ill time, resulting in Sara’s manager assigning her extra hours of mandatory overtime. Sara’s healthcare benefits package has changed and she is paying more money for less coverage. Her husband recently joined the ranks of the unemployed and her two children are begging to participate in sports and summer camps – and that is just the beginning.

While Sara has found herself complaining more to her boss about the workplace, clients and co-workers are voicing complaints about Sara that her manager finds to be a bit unusual and out of character. She is showing up to work late; unkempt and disheveled. She has gained a lot of weight. Sara is preoccupied, can’t seem to concentrate, and finds no joy in the things she once enjoyed the most.

Sara closed her eyes, wiped the tears from her face, and wondered if she had the strength to go home, fix dinner, clean the house, and spend time with her kids, let alone come back to work again that night. She had so wanted to change the world for good and now it seems so far out of reach, if not impossible. She is physically and emotionally spent and couldn’t care less about anything or anyone.

Let’s Talk About Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue – it’s not a new concept, but one we’ve brushed aside and cannot afford to ignore any longer! According to recent statistics, between 18% and 65% of health care workers (nearly 85% of emergency room nurses (1),25% of paramedics, and 34% of hospice nurses (2)) suffer from secondary traumatic stress and/or compassion fatigue.  But it’s not just limited to health care professionals – caregivers, or those who care for the dependent (and often chronically ill) family member, friend, neighbor, or client are also at risk.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue can be described as the reactions to chronic stress from the care-giving efforts health care professionals and caregivers provide. The stress begins to manifest itself in negative ways and if not recognized, leads to an overall loss of caring or compassion.

Who’s At Risk?

Experts tell us individuals who identify with the hopeless, helpless, at risk, and suffering populations are predisposed to suffer compassion fatigue, because they already possess an element of fatigue by the mere fact their worldview consists of caring for others before caring for themselves. Add a lack of self-caring practices  to the mix, and the conditions are right for developing compassion fatigue. (3)

What Are The Signs?

The signs of compassion fatigue range from the annoying and irritating, to the disruptive and disabling. Here is a list of some (not all) signs you might discover in someone experiencing compassion fatigue:

  • Excessive complaining
  • Unusual complaints from others
  • Compulsive behaviors such as overeating, gambling, etc.
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Mental and physical exhaustion
  • Poor hygiene and appearance
  • Substance abuse

What Are The Solutions?

There are many ways health care providers and caregivers can prevent and/or recover from compassion fatigue. Here is a list of some (not all) suggestions:

  • Understand the job you do effects you – awareness is the first step
  • Get healthy – see your doctor and adopt a healthy diet and exercise routine
  • Seek counseling
  • Embrace your faith
  • Surround yourself with positive people and influences
  • Manage your life and lifestyles – be proactive and find balance
  • Learn to say “no”
  • Keep a journal
  • Schedule “me” time
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep

What Should I Keep In Mind?

If you are a health care professional or caregiver, then understand God has created you as a unique and caring individual, entrusting you with this wonderful gift of caring. He has also created you with personal needs and limitations. By taking care of yourself, and perhaps decreasing the quantity of caring you provide, the quality of your caring can grow and mature into a meaningful and distinctive experience. Remember, even Christ Himself went away to the desert after ministering to the crowds who followed Him, so He could be ministered to by the angels.

1. Beck, C. (2011).Secondary traumatic stress in nurses: A systematic review. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 25(1), 1-10. Retrieved from  http://dx.doi.org.hslezproxy.ucdenver.edu/10.1016/j.apnu.2010.05.005

2. Hooper, et al. (2010). Compassion satisfaction, burnout, and compassion fatigue among emergency nurses compared  with nurses in other selected inpatient specialties. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 36(5), 420-427. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org.hslezproxy.ucdenver.edu/10.1016/j.jen.2009.11.027

3. Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project. (2013). What is compassion fatigue? Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.compassionfatigue.org/pages/compassionfatigue.html

©Copyright 2013 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

*Disclaimer: This forum is intended to provide general health and wellness information only. It is not a prescription and/or endorsement for any specific health/medical brand, product or program. You should ALWAYS consult your physician before starting, changing, modifying, or stopping any non-prescription and prescription medications, herbs, treatments, alternative therapies, exercise/wellness programs, physical and/or psychological therapies.

We’ll Always Have Banana Splits

Another Veteran’s Day has come and gone here in America. Across the mountains and flatlands of our great country, communities, organizations, and families gathered together once again to honor those whose sacrifice is forever etched across the memorials of time. We paused to remember; to find comfort, strength, example, and hope for the challenges of our tomorrows. Some turned and embraced their heroes, thankful for another day together, while others knelt beside a grave marker and wept bitterly for untimely loss and experiences unlived.

If we were to thoroughly research the lives of each veteran,  poring over battlefield notes and historical documents, examining journals and diaries, reading letters to wives and children, and conducting personal interviews, I have no doubt we would discover unique perspectives on the variable costs of freedom. While numerous accounts of personal, wartime sacrifice and heroics have already found their way to published books and Hollywood movies, there are thousands of stories left untold – stories of abandonment, relinquishment, surrender, rejection, and self-denial, mixed with achievement, conquest, adventure, and triumph. I am convinced however, that in spite of the emergence of extraordinary and rare themes from each of these experiences, we would find a singular commonality – choice!

The price of freedom requires us to make responsible, calculated decisions and whether a veteran was drafted or voluntarily enlisted, choice was the cause of the final effect. As men and women chose to take up the call for the defense of freedom, they in turn have secured our enduring freedom to choose.

One such example involves two of my uncles. As the story goes, Robert (Bob) and David (Curly) Rhoades were fairly fresh out of high school when they chose to answer their country’s call for service during the Korean War. Together, they made their way from our hometown of Nanty-Glo, Pennsylvania to the United States Army recruiter to voluntarily enlist for duty. Upon completion of the process, they were both rejected for enrollment because of one simple matter: they each weighed less than 100 pounds! Now, that might have stone-walled a few individuals from service, but being the Rhoades men that they were and not willing to accept no for an answer, they found a simple solution to the problem – they spent the next few days consuming large amounts of banana splits! Days later, they returned to the recruiter for another opportunity to enlist and successfully made the cut. Ironically, they not only became tank operators, but company cooks!

My uncles’ story and choices may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of the world, but I can’t help sitting back and thinking about the impact of their choices on the lives of our family, neighbors, country, and the lives of South Koreans today. Thanks to their choice of defending freedom, and the extra steps they took to enlist in the service of our country, we continue to have the freedom to choose.

It’s a cold, snowy, late-autumn day here in southwest Ohio, but I think I’ll take a trip down to the local dairy mart. I know they have a wide selection on the menu and thanks to my uncles’ choice of banana splits, I have the freedom to choose from a plethora of other frosty delights.  I’ve already made my choice though….banana split. Think I’ll take it with the traditional chocolate, strawberry, and pineapple toppings…oh, and extra whip cream please. This scoop’s for you Uncle Bob and Uncle Curly – thank you for your service!

©Copyright 2013 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

Special Guest: Melissa Johnson

Melissa Flores B&WThe wicked seize every opportunity, while believers shrink back in fear. When a door opens we draw back and wonder, “God, is that you?” This sounds noble and even somewhat humble. However, the Lord reminded me in prayer that when I ask for a door to open, I should not be perplexed when it does. This is nothing short of unbelief on my part.

“You doubt me.” The Lord spoke recently, awakening the awareness of a faulty mindset. “You pray and ask me for open doors… and I open them. I’ve opened a number of them. But, you miss the opportunity by giving into insecurity or doubt. Don’t you know all good things come from above? I am the source of all good opportunities. Satan cannot and will not produce a potential blessing.”

It all became clear as these scriptures flooded my mind:

  • James 1:5-8 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
  • James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
  • Luke 16:8, “Worldly people are more clever than enlightened people in dealing with their own.

The unrighteous lay hold of any opportunity that halfway looks like a winner. Meanwhile, we righteous pray, fast, wait, and waste away while door after door opens and closes in our faces. No wonder we don’t prosper! If we knew the will of God for our lives, or at least some semblance of His plan, we’d jump on every available chance to advance it. There’s no shortage of light on the path of the upright. We do not walk in darkness as children of the light. It’s time to live by that light – to stop calling fear faith. I choose to act the moment the door cracks!

Melissa Johnson is the General Manager of the He’s Alive Radio Network, Grantsville, Maryland. She is also the morning drive radio host of the AM Cafe’ on www.hesalive.net. Melissa is a minister, author and avid connoisseur of all things cocoa and coffee bean. Co-founder of the Flores household with hubby, Jonathan in 1994, she is the proud mother of one intolerably bright 16-year-old daughter, Madeline. For more information on Melissa, visit her website at www.definingwords.com