View Full Version : Am I The Only One?

03-21-2008, 04:31 AM
I've come to the realization lately that I am a basically a cold hearted..........well, you know.

I don't get sad when people die.

I don't get sad when kids are hurt.

I don't get sad when I take care of a rape victim.

I don't get sad name it.

Have I so seriously closed myself off from dealing with stuff like this that I've become an emotion-less (is that a word?) nurse?

I crave laughter, joy, and fun times. But anything that SHOULD be sad just puts me into a nondescript state. I deal with it and help my patients through it and remain uber-professional........

But I just don't FEEL anything.

Maybe I need therapy.

Anyone else?

03-21-2008, 06:07 AM

We each deal with the realities of our workplace as we are able. Sometimes we place a protective shield around ourselves in order to survive. You know this.

Would you benefit from counseling? Perhaps. IF the counselor is familiar with and skilled in adressing the effects of cumulative stress, that is. You see, it isn't only the big alarms and frights of nursing that harm us. We are also distressed day in and day out by the batterings of vicarious grief. We become numb in order to survive. And we loose sight of our goals in nursing.

ER nurses and ER physicians are, in my opinion, prone to developing a pervasive cynicism as a mechanism for tolerating the extremes inherent in the ER environment. We do not have to be this way, but cynicism, emotional blunting, and/or treating patients as adversaries is very, very common.

I have been around long enough to recognise a certain 'developmental stage,' as it were, in medsurg RNs who transition to the ER. Typically they are at first little sponges, eager and able to be heroes. Little by little, the shine of their enthusiasm is dulled by the constant demands of patients who feel entitled to narcs/benzos, and by the ignorance of people in general. They become bewildered by the shattered lives left in the wake of drunk drivers and child abusers. Their hearts are broken by the senselessness of violence. They are scorched by mental illness. They begin to drown in the sea of human need. I tell these new-to-the-ER nurses that working in the ER is painful. I warn them about the ease in which jaded negativity and emotional distancing will occur. I warn them to keep their goals in mind. Some listen. Most do not.

I have also been around long enough to recognise that there is a time to change hats. There is a reason why many hospice RNs were once ICU or ER nurses.

So... if you are experiencing "caregiver fatigue," if you have some memories that you won't let yourself remember, if your numbed state is keeping you from experiencing a full life, what can you do about it? Can you take a couple/few months off to focus on telling someone the truth? Can you focus on sleeping, eating, and playing well? It may be that taking care of yourself - really taking care of yourself - will enable you to become emotionally healthy again.

Been there.


03-21-2008, 10:48 AM
It sounds to me like you've just developed a defense mechanism. I think being in the ER exposes us to so much tragedy at times that we realize early on that we deal with it by focusing on our job and not the emotional aspect. I know that I am much the same way as you. I allow myself to feel sad at times when all is said and done, but usually I don't have time to deal with being sad because I have other duties that need tended. I also tend to only talk about it briefly if at all. Usually my co-workers and I will go back to our normal joking around and avoid the sadness entirely once we have it all said and done.

When a kid gets hurt- Emotionally I try to focus on the fact that I am trying to help him/her and less so on the injury. Our ER seperates the peds from adults, but I worked in the pediatric side for a year and a half and still pick up shifts there. But, I can't say I deal with this as much anymore.

When people die- I usually focus on getting the person prepared for family and getting the paperwork done. I leave the room when family enters. I don't like to see them mourn. It makes me sad when I don't want to be.

Anyways, you see what I mean. I don't get sad per say. I do whatever I can to avoid being in that state. I don't think it's heartless or meaning I don't care. It's just a matter of self defense. If I let everything, every tragedy sadden me at my work all the time, then I just couldn't do my job. I'd be an emotional wreck all the time. Now, if you look at your friends and family and feel like if a tragedy happens then you would still be numb, maybe it's beyond the what I would call normal defense mechanism of working in a place where sad things happen nearly everyday. Otherwise, I think you are doing what you need to do to survive in that enviroment. However, this is just one ER nurse talking to another. If you feel your feelings aren't right, then maybe they aren't.

03-22-2008, 12:32 AM
Is it that you are not feeling, or that you have suppressed those feelings and find them coming out in other ways?

Do you dread going to work? Do you get satisfaction from helping people even if you don't feel "sad"?

I once said that if I empathize with you, I can help you. But, if I sympathize with you, I am too involved and can't be objective.

Perhaps you are confusing empathy with "not feeling sad". If you feel sad all the time, you would not be very effective.

Then again, I know I've had to step away from ER twice (once working psych and once in an office doing pediatric advice) in order to get my perspective back.

It is possible to be drained "dry" of emotion and that means you need time, somehow, somewhere to get away, to do something else. Believe me, the urge for ER will come back. At least it did for me.

03-23-2008, 12:26 PM
I don;t know that it is so bad to not feel sad about those things. You can't feel everything for everybody. It is when the non-feeling spills over into your personal life, that it does become a problem. So do pay attention to that.