My Keppra bolus has arrived, sweating and shaking, I prime tubing knowing I must put on a smile for two parents worried sick about their baby. My arm is red and throbs but my heart hurts worse. Mary came to us after trying to hang herself. She was sexually abused multiple times by her father and now lives in a shelter. How many more times will I have to do that? Will she be okay? Does she have one person in this world that cares about her? It’s 2100, I feel like I’ve been awake for a week. I still have ten hours left of my shift. Keppra is running, I walk into the room of my new patient with another cheerful smile on my face and hurt in my heart. “Hi, I’m Cat, I’ll be your nurse tonight.”
I slide into my bed the next morning, next to the love of my life and my sweet little schnauzer. Who is taking care of my co-workers and the doctor who helped us restrain Mary? Did my co-workers feel sad and exhausted? Were they sore and physically worn down like I was? According to one study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative, approximately 18% of hospital-employed nurses experience depression, double the rate of the general population. Studies also suggest that physicians are nearly twice as likely to commit suicide compared to the general population.
My thoughts drift to one of my co-workers who committed suicide last year. A hard working nurse on our floor with fiery red hair and a lot of personality. She transitioned to the float pool and I now realize that was not a good fit for her. A beautiful nurse who was closed off at times and needed the support of the close-knit family on our unit. I sat at the table across from her at our Christmas party. We all laughed and smiled, never knowing she was days away from taking her own life. We just silently stared at her obituary hanging in our workroom, one of us gone too soon. Could we have helped or prevented it? John M. Grohol, PsyD, the founder of PsychCentral.com says, “Medicine is a profession that doesn’t give much thought to mental illness. It is not within their realm of treatment.” Health practitioners are concerned with what we can touch and feel, lab values and reports. While those are valid, what about the intangible things like stress levels, anxiety and depression?