In nursing school in my early 20’s strict principles of infection control were drilled into our heads. From basic hand washing to elaborate sterile technique, the focus was on caring for people without spreading disease from the infectious patient to the wounded or immune compromised. These principles have served me when working up close and personal with the human body as a nurse, but nursing school did not prepare me for the emotional impact of caring.
In my first job as an RN at a children’s hospital, I loved the kids. Children are honest, fun, and incredibly resilient. Over time it became harder to separate my personal feelings from the clinical scenarios that unfold in an acute care setting. I often took on the suffering of my sick and dying young patients and their families. I brought it home with me. This was heartbreaking, and unsustainable once I became a young mother myself.
With support from family, I upgraded my skills and moved into community health in my early 30’s as a nurse practitioner. I developed more solid emotional boundaries, which I found easier to maintain outside of the hospital setting. Working with families from all walks of life still pulled at my heartstrings though. I am prone to holding onto the emotions of others, sliding from empathy into sympathy. It was early in this second phase of my career, that I received simple but sound advice from a visiting Elder from the Nova Scotia Mi’qmaq First Nation, a warm and wise medicine woman.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA