Saturday, December 19, 2009

Guest Post: Leave it at the Door

I’m talking of course about all of the personal “stuff” we carry around. Those of us who work in direct patient care are not allowed to have personal stress. Right? The expectation is that when we walk into work, the stressors of our personal lives are, well, left at the door so to speak. It makes sense. In order to perform well in stressful situations, we have to be able to focus, on the moment, on what is presented in front of us. OK. I can accept that. In fact, I 100% agree. I have always been irritated by those who come into work and bemoan their personal lives, and or use it as an excuse for doing a sub -par job. PLEASE! Just leave it at the door. In a perfect world it works. But we don’t live in a perfect world. For the first few years after I had my son, I was sorely irritated by the idea that everyone else (patients) could behave poorly due to the stress of their everyday lives, (which may or may not have been anywhere as stressful as mine), but alas, I could not. I was still expected to be there, at work, focused, unfeeling of the storm that may have been taking place in my own life. I’m not typically one to roll around in the mud. I don’t like to wallow. I don’t appreciate over sharing of personal lives from the people I work with. It makes me…uncomfortable. But I am human, and from time to time, I am knocked off center by various events in my life.

Here’s a crazy secret… we all have our own lives. But… NO. We do not have the luxury of feeling, or even acknowledging it, unless we are on our own time. As a mother it is hard to disconnect. This expectation used to make me angry.

I remember one night in particular, my husband was deployed once AGAIN. I was doing the single parent thing AGAIN. My life at home was a little, ok a LOT more stressful than usual. That night, I had a patient who was deaf, and so was her spouse, I was struggling via multiple phone calls, to get an interpreter to come in and help us communicate, as I was writing everything to her for us to communicate. It was taking too long. What if there was an emergency? How would I tell her information quickly? Exactly what I didn’t want to happen, happened. (it’s Murphy’s law I guess) It was traumatic. The baby started having terrible, decels of fetal heart tones, and I could barely communicate to my very frightened patient, why I was flopping her from side to side and giving her Oxygen. I called the patient’s physician, he said he was coming in, he told me to administer terbutaline to stop contractions. I was performing all emergent response measures to improve heart tones and had another nurse come in to write out what we were doing and why we were doing it. I was stressed. My work cell phone rang, a call transferred to me by the receptionist, I figured it was my patient’s doctor but it turned out to be my children’s night time sitter calling from my house. I was irritated to have a call transferred to me at this time. I needed to Focus. On. The. Moment. “Big boy and Baby boy are both vomiting….Everywhere. I stripped all of their sheets and put Big boy in your bed, and then he vomited again. In your bed.” “Oh, fantastic” (sarcasm) “Baby boy is settling down, but he has a 102.2 fever, and Big boy feels feverish too, but I haven’t taken his temp yet” (Big boy has a history of febrile seizures) “I’m afraid to give them Tylenol and make them vomit again.” 

Times like that, are HARD to leave at the door. Our jobs are all consuming. When we are “on duty”, There is no half way. I quickly gave my sitter some instructions for cool baths. Told her to try Tylenol anyway, and told her to put a bucket next to Big Boy, and hung up. I finished the night and came home to 2 pathetic, sick children and a sitter who was worn out from her all nighter with them. My guilt over the course of the night ate at me all night long. But they were fine. My patient ended up being fine too. And the baby did well, after we got her out by caesarean section. We all survived.

     Now, I am experiencing another deployment, which means more balls to juggle in the air, on my own, again. The juggling never gets any easier, but over time, “leaving it at the door” has become easier. Knowing my children are well taken care of in my absence makes it possible. In some ways, I even welcome it now. As a mother, I often feel guilty over this. But I can’t help it. “Leaving it at the door” has become an escape. I am grateful to have something else to immerse myself in and forget about the rest of that swirling storm at home. If even for a few hours. I am happy to be there, focusing on the moment, and on what is presented in front of me.



  1. I don't know how you do it. The thought of how hard it would be was enough for us to not be able to make it work. So, in the middle of a deployment, in my second week of med school, on my lunch break, my life fell apart when he said it was too much, a reason I could not dispute.

    And while life is easier not trying to figure out how to coordinate school vacations and deployment schedules (who am I kidding, like anyone has a say in either!), residency location and PCSing, I miss him. I always will.

    So in a very roundabout way, I'm saying that I admire you and your husband greatly.

  2. That last part is so true. Sometimes I use work as a safe haven from personal stressors - I can just go on auto and perform well in a seemingly, at times, more structured environment. No, you don't want to bring your personal life to work - we have all been on the wrong end of that - but you do need to find friends or family to vent to.

    My husband does not get deployed, but he is a physician and a hunter. He is also a cook, and I enjoy eating the deer and duck meat in chili, gumbo, meatballs, and burgers, but still. It's hard when you are up all night with sick kids and working all day.

    I admire you, too! Keep your support networks broad and find time for yourself. As kids get older the sicknesses are less virulent, less frequent, and less stressful.

  3. Jane: Your description of the end of your relationship is heartwrenching. I'm so sorry. Juggling 2 busy lives is a tremendous balancing act. I'm not quite sure how some people do it. That is one of the main reasons I have waited to apply to medical school until the year that my husband retires. We can only handle being told where we need to live for 1 of us at a time :)Best of luck to you. You never know what the future holds.

    Gizabeth, you are absolutely right. It doesn't matter what they are doing, if the other half of your parenting team is not present, it adds to the load you take on, and it is tough. Gone hunting, gone on a business trip or gone for a deployment, it doesn't matter, either way, they are gone. I agree, having good support from friends and family is crucial to survival. I find that for military, we are often not near our extended family, and so we create our own family among each other. I am extremely grateful for the very good friends I have made along the way over the years. I have relied on them for many things. How could I not? I may try to be superwoman, but I still need support. What I was writing about was not necessarily the desire to vent at work, but the resentment over the guilt that I have had over the years for not being able to rush home and save the day. When I finally stopped feeling that resentment, and just accepted that I will feel guilty over something for the rest of my life now that I am a mother, it was a huge relief, and I realized there are definite benefits to being able to compartmentalize, and set aside what issues may be occuring at home, and just focus on my work. Time away from the thick of things often allows me to gain new perspective and better acceptance of stressors that occur. I've grown to appreciate that "safe haven".

  4. For me, having colleagues with whom I can grouse regularly helps enormously.

    A supportive spouse helps too, but no one gets it like a good colleague.


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