Admit it- we’ve all been there.
You’ve got all of 5 minutes to get lunch before the next thing on your schedule and your pager goes off about something that needs your attention urgently.
You haven’t peed in 10 hours and a staff member who needs something for a patient starts to follow you into the bathroom (even though the patient need is not truly something urgent).
You’ve been taking care of everyone but you for the last 29 hours, a patient decompensates, and you’ve got to handle it because no one else is available.
You get paged at 2 am for berry blast tums because the patient doesn’t like the usual flavor (yes, this actually happened, though not to me).
The truth is that our healthcare system isn’t well designed for us to partake in self care. While I know it most intimately from the ICU physician/ surgeon side, I see it exacting similar tolls on nursing staff, aides, PTs and OTs, pharmacists…really anyone who is involved in the nitty gritty of patient care. We get hungry (or hangry), we get tired, we get pulled in at least 6000 directions, all because we’re trying to do our best to take care of the patients and their families.
On Tuesday my team and I attended the March installment of Schwartz Rounds at the University of Utah, and the title of the session was the same as the title of this blog post. We got to hear from people who work in the healthcare environment in very different roles and get their perspective on how challenging our jobs as caregivers make it to take care of ourselves, and there was a great discussion about the role that culture plays in that. If I ask the staff to try to let me catch a 20 minute catnap while it’s slow, am I perceived as weak? If I call my supervisor to let them know I’m currently overwhelmed with patient demands, does that make me an incompetent resident? Putting those potential opportunities for shame into context was, quite honestly, eye opening. Our culture in healthcare mandates that as care providers we all run fast, leap high, and do all of the right things for everyone with a smile on our faces at all times. Reality mandates this simply can’t happen because we’re all human.
We all have basic things that we can try to do to help ourselves just a bit. I have a cache of healthy snacks at all times and I have two water bottles in the hospital (one in my office, one on the ICU). One of my “treat” tricks is that I have a stash of teas that I can brew up for me, which is an inherently stress-reducing activity, and that I am willing to share with team members as a boost. I’ve been doing this more recently and I’m starting to wonder if good loose-leaf tea simply has magical calming properties, even when it’s got caffeine.
One of the things that struck me the most during the Schwartz Rounds discussion was the role that leaders and teammates can play in creating a culture where we’re allowed to be human, where we somehow manage to get something nutritious to eat, where we can actually function at our best because we’re taking care of ourselves in the little ways that can add up when we’re stressed and tired and hungry. I realized as I was listening to a few horror stories that we are so fortunate in our unit to have a culture where we try very hard to take care of one another, be that by grabbing a coffee for someone’s morning fix, running to get someone lunch who is swamped, or simply having that willingness to step up and lend a hand when it’s crazy so that no one person has to shoulder too great of a burden.
Here’s my challenge for each of us this coming week: Think about the things that you wish someone would do for you when you’re hangry in the hospital. Then offer to do one (or more) of those things for someone on your team. You never know when you’ll need the same favor, and I can assure you they’ll be grateful for the kindness.