B. Betty, RN
The past experiences that have formed my own nursing practice and view of the world are ones of bullying, power struggles and dehumanization . My parents were authoritarian, only interested in me behaving. Any of my personal experiences outside of their presence was of little interest unless it could potentially reflect badly on them through my behavior or perceived rebellion. To them, if I had troubles, it was because I brought it on myself by behaving “badly,” or it was irrelevant and I was over reacting. I was told when I was 14, “if you ever get pregnant or end up in jail, don’t call home.”
I have older sisters who were out of the house before I was 12. They were busy raising babies in states I had never been to. I was basically an only child in a town that didn’t like foreign or different. I was both.
When I was 11, We moved to a rough cowboy oilfield boom town on the lip of eastern Montana where the mountains bleed into the Dakota plains. My father owned a farm dealership business selling combines and 100, 000 dollar tractors to the local farmers and ranchers. My mother is European so we spent almost all our summers in Germany coming home with suitcases of hand me down clothes, bags of coffee and candies and cheeses in packages with foreign lettering. This made our family suspect. We were outsider thought to be ‘rich’ since my dad owned a business.
I was tormented mercilessly by classmates whose family roots dug generations deep into local soil. I was physically struck in school, on the bus, and in any dark corner or hallway that didn’t have an adult watching-or even sometimes when there was. I was considered a liberal European communist. I was a big mouth in a small town where girls and women should still be seen and not heard. I was called terrible names, many of which I didn’t know the meaning of until years later, which brought more waves of stinging shame even into my adult years.
I had no one to stand up for me. My seemingly thick skin and strong pride was just a ploy to hide the humiliation of being publically broken. I became a strong victims advocate because of this experience and I still jump in to stop mean behavior before I think of the ramifications it might have for me. I cannot stand seeing other people or animals hurt, abandoned or neglected in part because of my temperament, but also because of my experience of chronically feeling alone, afraid, and in the dark.
I have been told on numerous occasions that I connect well with the ‘difficult’ patients, the homeless, the mentally ill. Mostly this is because they are disenfranchised, misunderstood, and largely neglected by society. I feel their pain and want to be the light I wish I had had.
I am 47 years old, hitting menopause and midlife. I’m mad as hell. Gloria Steinem said, “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” I don’t feel free yet, I’m still in the rage phase. I am burned out.
Nursing has become about maintaining a fiscal responsibility vs a human responsibility. We are being bullied by our institutions, our managers, and our human resource departments to maintain their profit margins. Any push back is seen as trouble making, histrionic behavior; we are to ‘heal ourselves,’ instead of having our institutions keep us safe, protect our mental health or defend us when we are being abused. It is always the nurse’s fault, there is no other story.
I feel that my profession has divorced me against my will. I am sad, I have newly diagnosed ADD, compassion fatigue and PTSD, No one cares. Burnout is real and like being called dirty names you don’t know the meaning of, shameful in ways that can’t be verbalized because I didn’t know such feelings existed or even had words to be described. Once again, I have no choice but to hold my head up even though I feel like I want to be in the fetal position. It is the only way to remain standing.
I hope with increased awareness, nurse bullying, like schoolyard bullying, becomes a zero tolerance sport. I hope that Press Ganey surveys die a terrible death and there is once again a balance between care and cure, people and profit. I hope that I can someday feel passion about this profession instead of just sadness and rage. I hope that I can give the same kind of self care to myself that I have given to others over the past 24 years of my career.
I’m angry that I haven’t gotten the same consideration from other healers or even family that I have given to strangers in my twenty plus years of nursing. In all my dark days of childhood and adulthood, whenever I was my weakest or most exhausted, I have had to always stand alone.
I’m tired of being the one to intervene for the weak and neglected. I feel weak and neglected. Where is the me I’ve been for everyone else? Since I was the only one saving worms from the concrete after the rain, or bringing home stray dogs or even stray people I shouldn’t expect anyone to rescue me. I’m the rescuer. It doesn’t occur to anyone that the carers need as much care as they give.
I am tired. Tired of the world demanding more. Tired that there will always be victims. Tired of hoping there will be less need for things to be saved. Worms, dogs, people. Me.
My fears are that the current political and social model in this country are wrecking our fragile goodness. There is no sense of a greater good outside of profit or one’s personal wants in the moment. People care even less than they did before. I felt that the lack of care by others is what propelled me forward. Now it is what is pushing me to my knees without any energy or hope of standing again.
My fear is my fear of people being selfish and driven by material wealth vs the common good is actually accurate. I fear that all my life my wanting to be helpful is as insignificant as I now feel. I always wanted to be a nurse. I don’t any more, My self identity as “nurse” is gone. My fear is, that it now makes me nothing.
This has all impacted my practice. In the beginning, it made me an eager, ‘above and beyond” nurse. I got above average evaluations. I worked extra shifts. I took on extra licensing certifications. As an oncology nurse I went to patients funerals on my days off, put up educational boards for nurses, organized certifications for our unit. I was “super nurse.” Until I became human.
When compassion fatigue started affecting me, management could have cared less. All they wanted was robot nurse. Someone who did what they were told and wasn’t a problem and represented them well. So once again, as long as I behaved and gave what was wanted, all was well. Once I started having needs, I was no longer in good graces and the intimidation and bullying started, At 47, I am done having to prove my worth to people or systems that have standards that are unattainable.
I honestly don’t know if I want to be part of this profession anymore. When bullying from the inside from the top to the bottom is norm, standing up for patients or other nurses is both career and soul suicide. I will not survive another crisis of self. Not everyone or everything can be saved. Maybe that’s the lesson. Maybe the only way to be saved is to walk away.