It’s subtle. Ask any nurse — they will tell you — they didn’t even feel it for a lot of years. Or maybe some of the more sensitive ones did — who knows? But I didn’t. I was tough — hardened with my armor in place long before I walked into my first nursing class.
I remember when I interviewed at the facility I’ve worked at for the past twenty-five years. The man who would hire me (later that morning — in fact) said to me, “So — what happened to you? We all have a something — at least all the decent nurses do. A some-one-thing that turned us into caregivers early on. What’s yours?”
When I didn’t respond immediately — he shared this — “I’m a child of two alcoholic parents…”
I nodded — “Mother died when I was twelve.”
He smiled — “I knew it! All the good ones have “It”. And you have “It.”
What he meant was this — we have lost the psychological barrier which will maintain our own sense of self-preservation. We will lead ourselves to our own destruction to care for others. Lemmings to the cliff if need be. The ‘It’.
What The-Man-Who-Would-Become-My-Boss failed to mention was how heavy The ‘It’ was.
With each twelve-hour shift, with each missed lunch break, with each day off you are supposed to have — but you go into work because they called and they needed you — the weight of The ‘It’ grows.
You start to bear the responsibility not just for your shift — your assignment — your patients but for All. The. Things.
You feel The Weight of shit which goes down when you’re not there. They encourage you to sign up for committees — which meet on your days off and eat into your time with your family. You become ‘invested’ in outcomes and goals. You team lead and you precept. The ‘It’ begins to encompass your co-workers and their behaviors and the commitment they have to Their ‘It’.
When you leave work at night — you cease to leave work. The ‘It’ follows you out to your car and comes home with you. Your personal laptop starts to have flow charts and presentations on it related to The ‘It’. You pay money to go to conferences you don’t enjoy taking time away from all the things you do enjoy to learn about crap you won’t ever use in your J.O.B. — to feed The ‘It’.
You notice your only friends are other nurses. From your unit. Who share the weight of The ‘It’.
Then one day you go on a vacation. And as you leave work — you feel the weight of The ‘It’ lift off you as you walk out of the building. You are all the way to your car — and you know you will let that sucker go to voice mail if anyone from work tries to call you now! You feel a hundred pounds lighter.
With each successive vacation through the years — coming back to resume your duties and shoulder The Weight is harder and harder.
Until one day you just don’t want to pick up The Weight anymore. You’ve had “It’. You are so fucking over ‘It’.
No more ‘It’. You used to have ‘It’ — that was true…but you lost ‘It’ somewhere in time.
You stopped pouring yourself out into your patients, physicians, co-workers, and bosses. All of the needs which just kept coming at you without end finally WERE THE END.
You’re done. You’re gonna stay in the peaceful — weight free existence you found — ‘It-less’.
No more being responsible for all the pain, all the dying, all the emotional meltdowns you could not ease — save — mend.
You finally at long last realized — nothing you ever did or would ever do was going to fix the fact your mother died when you were twelve.
And just like that — The ‘It’ and The Weight — vanished for good.
“It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left their voice behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do — determined to save the only life that you could save.” — Mary Oliver — The Journey