by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s blog on January 17, 2022, as “Caring too Much.” It is republished here with the author’s permission.
I had a long conversation with a young woman on Saturday afternoon. I started by asking how her job was going. She sighed and said, “I cared for six COVID patients yesterday.”
Then she paused for a moment and said, “But I only cried once.”
The woman is a freshly minted nurse. She just started working at a local Milwaukee hospital. She is currently working in the ER. The nurse has only been there for a couple of months, and she is already exhausted. Timing is everything, and her timing is exceptionally bad. It’s not her fault. COVID is raging right now, and she walked right into the fiercest part of the pandemic.
She told me, “I talked to a nurse who has been working for thirty years. She said that things have never been like this. Years ago, they had a shortage of equipment, and they had to get creative with what they had available. But it’s never been this bad.”
The young woman works twelve-hour shifts three or four days a week. Her schedule changes, so I don’t know how many hours she gets in total each week, but those are long shifts. I used to work for twelve hours straight, and I was always completely drained at the end of the day (or night). She is always busy in the ER, usually too busy. The work is fast-paced and stressful. It wears on her.
The woman told me a story about a 92-year-old man who was in the ER. He didn’t make it. She said, “He was the nicest man. He always said, ‘thank you’ and never complained.”
There was nothing this nurse could do to save the man. It’s not her fault that he died on her watch, but the death haunts her.
The woman explained to me that the hospital is completely full up. There are no open beds. The ER is often filled to capacity. Overflow patients sit in the waiting room, and they wait and wait. There aren’t enough nurses. Everything is maxed out.
What seems to bother the nurse most is that she can’t give the patients the care that she wants to give them. She doesn’t have the time or the resources. She doesn’t want to be the person who makes decisions that might determine whether a person lives or dies.
A long time ago, I was an Army helicopter pilot. I was responsible for the lives of the passengers riding in my aircraft. That was sometimes a heavy burden. But it was never anything like what this young woman has to bear. She is intelligent and she is strong, but still… how much can she handle?
She told me that FEMA was scheduled to come and help in the middle of January. she asked, “It’s the middle of January now. Where are these people?”
I don’t know all the reasons why she chose to become a nurse. I am sure that part of it was to serve others, to heal the sick and wounded. She cares deeply about her patients.
Is it possible to care too much?