Let me start by saying I am not particularly proud of my actions here. But the story I am going to share with you made me think a great deal about the issue of staff burnout, staff coping strategies for dealing with people who are very ill and the problem with focusing on task and not people. At the end of the day I became much more sensitive to how hard it is for staff to cope with interactions with people who are very ill, and much more compassionate around the issues of staff burnout when faced with daily emotionally painful situations.
As I write this I am completing my first week after my first chemo treatment. Let me just say it has not been a good week. I am trying to work each day to support my resilience but the side effects of the chemo make it challenging to walk to my front gate, let alone do anything else. I am very lucky to have a supportive family and co workers who surround me with love and care. Not all consumers of mental health services we serve are so lucky.
I have been thinking a bit about one of the three hospital/cancer center visits I had to make this week as a routine follow up to my chemo. This Cancer Center visit started as I heard my name being called and I went through the opened door into the work area. I stopped to try and figure out where I was supposed to go. There was no one standing there waiting for me within 10 feet of me. No one looking at me. No one calling my name. I waited for more than a minute and then said out loud to the four or five staff across the room, "am I supposed to go somewhere?" A woman over in a corner said "over here" and pointed at the scale. She did not greet me by name, she did not introduce herself, she did not make eye contact.
If you know me at all, you know this is not going to end well.
I asked her in as sympathetic a voice as I could muster if she was having a bad day. She replied sharply, "no." That’s it, "no." After my weight was recorded, she pointed at a room. I went in and, wondering what to do next, I eventually sat down at a chair, not on the table. Without any explanation she inserted the thermometer. At this point I said something like, "Well, you are not winning my vote for most compassionate and helpful staff member this month."
I was mad. I am not a thing, I am a person. And, by the way, I had spent the last 24 hours throwing up, dealing with insomnia, severe joint pain, diarrhea, and exhaustion like being hit with a mac truck. I spent the hour trip to the facility holding a throw-up bucket between my knees. Walking from the car to the treatment room was about all I could accomplish that day.
Her response to my statement was "I am sorry you think so" delivered in a brusk "I really do not give a d**n" voice. While she took my blood pressure I asked her why I was there that day as I had no clue. I was just doing - barely - what I was told to do with no energy for much more. She replied with scorn and incredulity that I was there to see the doctor. I asked why and she said, "I have no idea." And she clearly could not care less. Well I had had enough. I was sick and sore, tired and scared and I just was not going to be treated like a thing by some twenty-something person who thought I was of no value. So I told her she was really bad at this and she left the room in a fury. I was left to sit in the room for 15- 20 minutes while someone figured out what to do next.
Nope I am not proud of what I did. I may have been sick and scared but that is no reason I could not treat that staff member with courtesy.