bogey & ruby

bogey & ruby

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Floating

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

― Wendell Berry

Last Friday, I was doing passive range of motion exercises with an ALS client, who can still walk but can't talk or hug her grandchildren anymore, when she started to choke on some saliva. Alarmed, I lowered her arm and sat on the bed facing the bath chair where she sat, and waited. When her airway finally cleared and she could breathe again, she lifted her eyes to meet mine and the tears spilled over. 

That brief exchange, the look of absolute despair and suffering in her eyes, was my undoing. While there is nothing wrong with being emotionally present when a client is in distress, it is completely discomfiting when your own reserve crumbles, the pressure of a carefully preserved, protective wall pushing water from sternum to throat, unstoppable as it threatens to erupt in a paroxysm of gulping sobs and snot bubbles.

The above vignette has haunted me all week, through distractions, tasks, and small pleasures. It underlies my days and each time it bubbles to the surface, my throat tightens, my eyes well up and my voice falters once again.

To healthcare workers, caregivers, helpers who empathize for extended periods of time week after month after year, this imbalance/blurring of boundaries/loss of footing is a red flag. Call it compassion fatigue or burn out, the signs and symptoms are real and the cost to one's well being can be devastating and in some cases, permanent.

If you've been experiencing some difficulties yourself, you may consider taking your own inventory. You can take a self test here.

How do I cope? I cling to the moments of grace and humour that, surprisingly, considering the sadness of my job, are ever present in my work week. These are the melodies that emerge from the cracks in the dam (to paraphrase Leonard Cohen's famous quote), and from Wendell Berry's impeded stream. These moments validate, energize, and carry me when I get stuck.

But only so far.

The truth is, what I'd really like to do right now is float for a while. No turbulent waters, no pain and suffering to ease. A little rest stop before continuing my work.

Isn't that the normal thing to do on a journey when you're tired from traveling?

Namasté.



8 comments:

  1. Beautifully stated, Sharon. You, of deep soul, are a rare gem. Thanks for writing this. Besos.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by, Barbara, and for your kind words. <3

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  2. You have a rewarding but also at times agonizing job. I am sure at times you are thinking ahead to your golden years and those of your parents and friends. We have to hope there will be cures or atleast better meds for all these diseases that more than not catch us in our elder years. Your clients can feel your caring spirit and I am sure they are very grateful.

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    1. Thanks for reading and for your comment, Carolyn. I do indeed worry for all of us, especially knowing the system as I do. As much as I need a break from it periodically, I do feel it's a great privilege working with this clientele.

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  3. A haunting description of a powerful moment that gives a lot of insight into the challenges of your work.

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    1. Thanks, Lori. So glad that came across.

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  4. A haunting description of a powerful moment that gives a lot of insight into the challenges of your work.

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