There are days when the awesomeness of what we do as nurses hits me hard. I don't mean awesome as in the slang for impressive, I mean awesomeness as in the overwhelming nature of what nurses do every day. We are often present during defining moments for our patients and their families, moments that they will mark time by in the future. But to us, these moments are just part of the job, a piece of what we do.
This has been on my mind this week because my cousin is critically ill and recovering from a liver transplant. For the rest of his life, he will likely define events as before this transplant and after this transplant. I know his nurses have been caring and present, in addition to being knowledgeable and efficient, but this event in his life, their patient's life, does not define theirs. They are involved in this critical point, this life-changing time, in my cousin's life but they must also go on with theirs.
We all learned about empathy in nursing school. I have a dictionary/thesaurus app on my phone and it describes empathy as a way to vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of another. So, I'm taking that to mean that empathy is experiencing those thoughts and feelings without actually having them.
Empathy is what allows us to demonstrate caring behaviors, to let patients and families know we understand what they are going through/feeling/experiencing, but we can still stay somewhat disconnected from it. Empathy is what allows us to continue to move on to the next patient; empathy is what protects us.
What if we did not have empathy? How could we continue to go on? If we had to actually experience what our patients and families go through instead of virtually experiencing it? It's a thin line we walk, that of being present and caring for patients and families but still being able to go home and go on with our lives.