On Compassion

I received a little recognition the other day at work for being “compassionate and caring”. This was funny to me since that’s certainly not how I see myself, and probably not how others see me. I like guns, teasing fish with badly tied flies, the Darwin awards, and generally have limited tolerance for people who repeatedly make poor life choices. How could I poscallbellsibly be considered compassionate?

Being an RN has lead me down an interesting road of self discovery. I find that I’m becoming increasingly more caring towards people in need, and simultaneously far less tolerant of general asshatery and poor decision making. On my floor we see some pretty terrible things. Horrible car accidents resulting in brain injuries that aren’t recoverable, strokes, spinal injuries, brain tumors with poor outcomes, generally some of the worst days of peoples lives.

When dealing with these patients, you’re reminded of how lucky we are – and how fleeting our time here is. You never know what’s around the corner. I’ve been extremely fortunate and can’t imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes. If I can do something to make the brief time I’m with them better, I do it. It’s a side of me that I didn’t realize was there. It makes me feel good and hopefully eases their burden a tiny bit.

The other side of the coin has hardened me. The repeat drunks detoxing, chronic users sneaking drugs into their room and injecting into their IV lines, pemtdewople who are convinced they’ve checked into the Fairmont hotel and expect to be waited upon, and the 400 pound patient on oxygen who’s eating a bag of Doritos and is pissed at me because I won’t help her waddle to the patio to smoke or give another dose of morphine.

For these people I’m rapidly losing my ability to feel sympathy. Life is short and you have a choice as to how you want to live it. Being a jerk is a choice. Treating others like crap is a choice. Making poor lifestyle choices… and then continuing to make them is a conscious decision. (Yes, I understand addiction and mental illness and its impact but a very large percentage of these folks are just generally not nice people) Knowing that the hospital and taxpayers will be dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars and days/weeks/months of care on someone who is going to check back in for the exact same thing before too long is hard to process sometimes. My compassion meter runs a little low some days.

I think that the reason I received that little nod at work is not because I’m Mr. Compassion, crying and empathizing with every patient who spilled their pumpkin spice latte, but because I treat everyone exactly the same. From the drug user to the VIP, I give the same care. As a patient, you’ll never know what my inside voice is saying. I think the trick to longevity in this job is finding an outlet so that inside voice stays inside.

As the old saying goes, don’t be a jerk to the person fixing your food, cleaning your hotel room, or caring for you at the hospital. You never know when their inside voice might become their outside voice.


“Well the jerk store called, they’re running outta you!” – George Costanza

 

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