Late on a Friday afternoon I sat on the floor of a shared office space in semi-lotus position, dismantling the fax machine to clear a paper jam. I needed to fax a copy of one more cancer survivorship care plan to a primary care physician’s office to meet my weekly quota before going home. If you work for an accredited cancer institute, and particularly if you’re an oncology nurse navigator like me, the phrase “survivorship care plan” is enough to cause heart palpitations, and maybe make your palms sweat. If the phrase doesn’t hold meaning for you, count your blessings.
Sitting before the fax machine in semi-lotus position, trying very hard not to break its plastic drawer while reaching for the piece of paper stuck in its maw, I considered the difficulty of practicing mindfulness in the controlled chaos that is health care. At that moment, I felt more akin to George’s father on Seinfeld, Frank Constanza, screaming “Serenity now!” than to the Dali Llama.
How is it I have the nursing skills to manage a patient’s airway on a ventilator, but am defeated by a piece of office equipment?
The stress is worse for nurses working at the bedside: For instance, how many times does the ED call to admit a patient to a nursing unit only to be told the unit doesn’t have a bed? I don’t mean a room, I mean literally, a physical bed? The admission is delayed while some poor night shift nurse traipse through hallways into the bowels of the hospital in search of a bed.
There are medication shortages to contend with, including the lowly bag of saline, diphenhydramine, and flu shots. These scenarios are not new to nurses. They are common occurrences we problem solve during the course of a shift, while managing the health and safety of our patients, documenting for compliance standards, and meeting accreditation mandates such as survivorship care plans.
Some days I’m more successful maintaining mindfulness at work than other days. That’s why mindfulness is a practice. Practicing mindfulness requires compassion not only for others, but for ourselves. In fact, it’s my opinion that a lack of self-compassion and self-care contributes to a general lack of compassion towards others, fueling a hostile work environment. I keep a small dish of crystals on my desk at work to remind myself to stay in the moment.
As I sat on the floor in front of the fax machine, late on that Friday afternoon, a coworker returned to our office. She asked what I was doing, and I vented my frustration. She got down on her knees, and took a turn at dismantling the fax machine to get it working. She was successful. I faxed the care plan to the physician’s office, meeting my quota for the week. I got out on time to take my barre class, where we practice breathing and mindfulness.
Gratitude and compassion are the two hands of mindfulness.