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Why I can’t cry with you—a follow-up

iStock | sumroeng

iStock | sumroeng

Since my post entitled I Wish I Could Cry With You, But I Can’t went up, a LOT of people have commented!

I felt the need to write a follow-up post to further explain myself. I think that a lot of nurses really understood what I meant with my post, but those who either aren’t nurses or haven’t been in the field long thought that me not crying meant I’m not there for my patients and I ignore their emotional needs.

You see, there is quite a vast amount of gray space between being emotionally void and jumping all the way in.

I described a grieving patient or family member as being a deep, dark pit of despair. I talked about me empathizing with them by climbing down a ladder into that pit with them, but needing to stay on that last step so that I can quickly climb out for my patient next door at the drop of a hat.

I got that example from the wonderful Brené Brown. Here’s this phenomenal explanation of the difference between being sympathetic and empathetic: Sympathy vs. Empathy.

This process of being emotionally present for patients looks different for each and every nurse. For me, if I step off of that last step, I really can’t do anything else. Stepping off of that step means I start crying. Why do I jump right to crying? Because I work in a large urban neuro intensive care unit and I see some sad, sad stuff. Every day.

Rip-your-heart-out stuff. Stuff that constantly makes me picture my husband, my mom, my dad, my sister Nikki, or my BFF Beni or Lonzell in that bed hours from death. Stuff that gives you anxiety every time the phone rings at an odd time because you think you’re going to get the phone call that your patient’s family got yesterday. Stuff that keeps you constantly aware of how fragile and precious every single second with them is. So, while I’m actively fighting those thoughts every time I walk into my patient’s room for 12 hours, letting the floodgates go and picking myself back up at a moment’s notice is just not an option. For me.

If I start crying, I can’t go titrate drips, talk to the physician who suddenly called and needs to talk to me NOW, or go grab Zofran and a basin because your loved one is puking everywhere and it’s my job to fix it.

Why is crying my limit? I don’t know. I know other nurses who can cry one minute and pull it together the next. When I cry, the floodgates are opened and I’m down for the count for a bit. This is not new…when I got married four years ago, my husband and I had a “first look” before I walked down the aisle just so I wouldn’t do the ugly cry. I was well aware and took appropriate precautions!

When I lose it, it turns into being more about me than the patient or their loved one. I don’t want it to become about me—that’s not appropriate. So, I’ll take the appropriate precautions to compose myself before stepping into the room, to disconnect the dots, to give myself what I need in order to be there for you.

I’m not ashamed that it’s hard for me to recover from crying. I’m not ashamed of my ugly cry. I don’t think it makes me less of a nurse or a weak person. I think we all need to be aware of ourselves, our limits and our needs. This is one of my limitations and pretending it’s not there or being ashamed is just stupid.

To read more, visit NurseEyeRoll.com.

Nursey-123x185Learning how to be a great nurse at the bedside while maintaining your sanity at home is no easy task. Becoming Nursey: From Code Blues to Code Browns, How to Take Care of Your Patients and Yourself talks about how to realistically live as a nurse, both at home and at the bedside…with a little humor and some shenanigans along the way. Get ready: It’s about to get real, real nursey. You can get your own copy at at NurseEyeRoll.com (PDF), Amazon (paperback) or Goodreads (ebook).

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Kati Kleber BSN, RN

Kati Kleber BSN, RN CCRN is a a nationally certified critical care nurse located in Charlotte, NC. She is the Nurse Advisor and Editorial Director of the #ProtectNurses initiative, and will be guiding the content we curate, create, and share back with you. Kleber, aka Nurse Eyeroll, is a popular blogger, the voice behind the wildly successful #ProTips series, and a frequent speaker on nursing leadership. You can buy her book "Becoming Nursey" at nurseeyeroll.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sites. She also has two more books in the works, which will be published by the American Nurses Association and on shelves Feb. 2016!
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5 Responses to Why I can’t cry with you—a follow-up

  1. orteach

    Awesome blog. Love this post. So very true every word. Love the empathy video as well.

  2. Susan Alexander

    I understand that some people can’t cry in situations,,I can’t not cry..when I have worked with a patient all night long and they pass in the 30 minutes I wasn’t in the room , when a patient has been on my floor for over 100 days and everyday that I worked in those 100 days I was assigned to that patient. They became my friend as well as my patient.. I laugh and cry on a daily basis with my patients and I develop a real love for them..I have to shake the tears off after a loss before I go in another room, but when my patients family sees my emotions they no without a doubt that I was truly devoted to their family member..I don’t like for them to see me cry but sometimes it happens..I wish at times I could control my tears better than I do, but sometimes it can’t be helped.. I have a great respect for nurses and we all handle things different, I just hope and pray that the patient and the family know that those emotions, seen are unseen, were there and are being controlled in what ever way possible.
    S.A.RN

  3. tom combs

    As a former ER physician and now an author I was touched by your eloquent and heartfelt words.
    The commonly stated public wisdom that doctors and nurses “get used to” the sadness and tragedy we experience in our professions is misguided. We are impacted, we do feel the pain but, as you state so well, we can not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by it. Our responsibility demands that we not let our feelings prevent us from doing what needs to be done to help others.
    Nurses, doctors, paramedics, and many of our healthcare teammates face the dilemma you articulate so well. Thanks for both of your posts. It’s clear that you care and that is, in my opinion, the special thing that all the best healthcare providers share.

  4. heather53090

    Just an amazing blog post… I work in healthcare and this explained so much of the things I could not fathom. It was at first saddening, but it’s the truth and it’s just simply inspiring. After reading this, it only makes my drive so much stronger that nursing is the field for me. Thank you so much for posting this and God bless.

  5. SaraQBee

    “If I start crying, I can’t titrate drips” really hit home for me. I want to be emotionally supportive to the patient and their family, but need to hold back some so I can focus on the complex tasks that go along with caring for a critically ill patient. To me it’s more important to program the correct dose of Epi, even if it means waiting 2 minutes to answer difficult emotional questions. Those are important too, but it’s hard for most nurses to do both well at the same time.

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