Caring for ourselves – a personal reflection

I was looking down my Twitter stream this week when I came across a really though provoking question:

I found it thought provoking for a good reason, and that’s because I have found it hard at times in my career to ask for help when it’s needed.  I am sure that I am not the only one and I strongly suspect that every nurse who reads this blog will have a story to tell of a time when they should have asked for help and support and did not.

 My own story starts over 10 years ago, when I was working as a care home manager.  It was a really stressful job and as a mum of two young boys back then I was also juggling work and family life too, again as many nurses. I really didn’t realise how stressed I was.  Looking back, with the clarity that hindsight affords us, I can see the signs that I was finding it hard.  There were times when I really didn’t stop all day and didn’t take a break.  There never seemed to be enough hours in the day and I would always take work home.  I started to feel very run down and often had colds – I remember having a really awful head cold one day and ringing my manager to ask if it was ok to leave early as I felt very unwell and she just said to me “well that’s not setting a very good example is it?” It wasn’t very caring, or compassionate of her and I just sat in my office and cried – luckily the owner of the care home came in and then sent me home, I must have looked awful, I certainly felt it … but nevertheless returned to work the next day.

In amongst all of this my husband and I were trying for another baby and much to our delight I became pregnant.  We were both over the moon and as the mum of two very boisterous boys I was secretly (well perhaps not so secretly!) wishing and hoping for a girl.  It was still early days and as with all my pregnancies I felt quite sick and extremely exhausted.  Nevertheless I kept working.  The home I was managing was one the company I worked for had recently taken over and it had an awful reputation, and rightly so! I had been appointed as manager as I had had some success in turning other care homes around but this home was a real challenge.  There were many issues to deal with regarding staff, inspections and most importantly ensuring the people we cared for got the quality of care they needed and deserved… all through the early stages of my pregnancy I did not stop !!

At about 18 weeks I started to feel that something wasn’t right.  I had a little bit of bleeding, nothing too much but made an appointment with my GP straight away.  My GP sent me off to have a scan …. I knew something wasn’t right, but had experienced this before with my boys so talked myself out of the worry that something was wrong, to the extent that I told my husband not to come to the scan as I was sure everything was ok.

 Everything was not ok.

Our baby had died.

 I will never forget the wonderful nurse who was scanning me, who broke the news with such compassion.  To this day I cant recall what she said to me, or what words she used, but I do remember that she said it in a phenomenally caring way. She took me to a room where I could call my husband – I can still see the white push button phone that I merely stared at for ages before I found the strength to pick it up and call him.  I really struggled to find the right words but my husband just said “I am coming” When he arrived I just cried.

Everything after that was a bit of a blur but somehow we agreed to come back in two days time to have surgery.  This seemed like the best option for me and I was glad that I had a little time left to hold onto our baby and say goodbye.  We went home just feeling numb.

The next day was the most beautiful spring day, the sky was wonderfully blue and my husband and I went out for a drive.  We drove to a local castle and didn’t even get out of the car, but just enjoyed the brightness of the day; I sat and cuddled my bump for most of the journey.

The day of the surgery came and I felt ready to say goodbye, my husband took me to the hospital and I really don’t remember much about it all until I woke up.  I woke up in lots of pain, the nurses couldn’t understand why everything was so painful but looking back I think that I felt the pain in my very soul.  The first thing I said to my husband after the surgery was “I’m not going back to work” and he simply said “I know”

Why am I telling you this story? Well, it really is about asking for help and caring for ourselves. With hindsight I know I should have asked for help, I should have cared for myself more, I should have taken time out.  So back to @ruthalexsanders question why do we find it so hard? I think there are many reasons, for me I think that caring for people who had multiple health problems made my own “stress” seem insignificant, so I felt I should just stoically carry on.  In addition to this I can see now that I had no real support network, no one to ask me “are you ok?’ or “have you had a break” I also think that there was part of me that wanted to show people I could cope and I could do this.

Of course this was over 10 years ago now and since then I have had a beautiful girl (who is now 8!) I never returned to that job but I did start to take care of myself more, develop support networks and now spend a lot of time, when on shift, checking colleagues are ok and telling them to take a break … because I know how important it is to take time to care for ourselves.

I hope that by sharing my story it will help others to reflect and understand the importance of caring for themselves. It’s so very important to take a little time out – remember care and compassion starts with us.