Using Perspective As a Tool Against Nursing Burnout

The death rate for humans on the planet Earth is currently 100 percent. I know this is not a pleasant thing to read while enjoying your first cup of coffee this morning, or perhaps you’re enjoying a calming glass of wine later this evening. It’s unpleasant enough that perhaps you will not finish reading this post, but it’s true nonetheless.

Ravens by jparadisi

Ravens by jparadisi

Running parallel to our fear of dying is our pursuit of eternal youth. Cosmetic surgery and procedures are a billion dollar industry. Many men and women consider regular treatments for balding, teeth whitening, the prevention and removal of wrinkles, and coloring gray hair part of normal maintenance. Some choose to have  the evidence of time wiped from their faces by a surgeon’s scalpel.

The struggle nurses face in striking the right balance between hope and realistic outcomes for our patients is in part due to society’s mythical belief that death is preventable, when in fact, it’s inevitable. As humans, nurses buy into the myth to some extent also.

Discussing this, a nurse friend and I joked about gray hairs and wrinkles. She remarked, “Getting old is terrible.”

“No,” I said, “It’s not. It’s what nurses do for a living. We help people stay alive so they can grow old.”

See? It’s a matter of perspective.

Whenever someone asks, “Is it hard being a cancer nurse working with dying patients?” the above thoughts come to mind. The answer is, “I don’t see oncology nursing from that perspective.”

Yes, oncology nurses work with the dying, but I perceive our practice as helping people live to their fullest capacity.

Nurses cannot guarantee patients a cure or how long they’ll live, but by promoting prevention, treatment, and providing tools for managing chronic disease, we encourage them to pursue their best life possible as things stand. If nurses lose this perspective, how can we hope to share it with our patients?

There is balance in the realization that death is part of life. Death and loss cause grief, a normal response. Grief and loss are painful. We fear death and loss, but they are a natural occurrence of living. Maintaining a realistic perspective is a tool for burn out prevention among nurses.

All people die. Nurses are here to help patients live until that day.

I grieve their loss, and mine, because I glimpse my mortality too in the faces of the dying.

Thank you for reading this entire post.

Hello, 911? My Coffee Maker Broke

Morning, Joe. photo: jparadisi 2012

It was a crisis that will never make the morning news: our coffee maker died suddenly, without a gasp. The “power on” light still blinks a brilliant blue, which makes me wonder if the machine is actually dead or merely in a coma. No matter, as I have already pulled the plug.

Speaking of comas, I cannot function without drinking coffee in the morning, everyday, whether working or not.

My morning coffee is so important that I have not left it to chance, having kept an old French press in case of just such an emergency. However, as events over the past few years have exposed, no emergency plan is without omission of certain important details. In this case, the first being that the coffee I brew is too finely ground to hold up in a French press. My attempt created something resembling cream of coffee soup more than the elixir that helps me hang on.

The second glitch in my plan was that David had the day off too. He possesses the ability to wait to get to work before having morning coffee, but for some reason is unable to wait that long after waking up when he is home. This meant I had to figure out, in my pre- caffeinated state of mind, how to make enough coffee for two with available tools, while he sat in the big green armchair, eating yogurt with peanut butter. I don’t know why he eats peanut butter with yogurt. It’s one of those questions I don’t ask, preserving the sanctity of our marriage.

I came up with another plan, because I’M A NURSE DAMMIT! Have I mentioned that when I was a new grad nurse, one of my many nicknames (I seem to collect them) was MacGyver because of my ability to jimmy-rig supplies at hand to do the job of equipment I can’t find. So, I think to myself, “Hmmm, what if I Ieave the coffee machine’s swing door open, boil water, and pour it over the ground coffee in the filter held by the machine, thereby creating manually dripped coffee?

It didn’t work. The water refused to flow through the ground coffee and filter by gravity. WTH? IV fluids flow by gravity, why not coffee? Dammn it!

This is why I am sitting in my neighborhood bakery, with a sixteen ounce paper cup containing four shots of espresso and just enough water to prevent the stir stick from standing upright. The girl at the counter told me I was doing pretty well for not having coffee yet, but she didn’t see my fumbling fingers while I poured soy milk into the cup, or the struggle to prevent spilling coffee as I found a seat. Thankfully, I’m not at work, trying to start an IV on an unsuspecting patient.

 Good news! Thousands of studies find that drinking coffee might actually be good for you. For more information, watch this video: The Truth About Coffee.

I Wish I’d Said It

If you find that your eyes hurt after drinking coffee,

try taking the spoon out of the cup.

Norm  Crosby

I Wish I’d Said It


Change photo by JParadisi 2010

If you fear change, leave it here. 

    I found these words on a hand written note taped to a barista’s tip jar. It gave me something to chew on besides a biscotti.

Snowbound for the Holidays


Portland in a water-glass. photo: JParadisi 2009

     While drinking my morning coffee, I noticed a perfect reflection of Portland in a water-glass on the window sill. The glass is holding a start of a cactus I’m hoping will root. My imagination lit up to the concept of a city, held in a drinking glass.

  I have a dear friend, living in Nebraska, where there is a recording-breaking snow storm.  The drifts of snow in her front yard stand up to 10 feet high. She’s snowed in with her animals, waiting for snowplows to remove the snow.  Her  Christmas cards wait on a table for mailing.  A woman and her pets, held in a home on a prairie, surrounded by snow.

     Here in Oregon, I have the flu. (Those of you following this blog know I had the  H1N1 vaccination).  An artist held in the soft blankets of her bed, or sometimes the sofa. My Christmas cards remain unwritten this year. Figuratively speaking, I’m a little snowed in myself.

     My friend in Nebraska is also an artist, and in an email to her, I wrote:

     I’m itching to get back to the studio. The balance between family and creativity is always tilted one way or another. But it’s family that makes us human, and art should serve humanity, not the other way around.

     A life can be snow bound for many reasons. It’s not an accident that the western New Year falls on the heels of Christmas, giving us an opportunity to start over, following a holiday season that sometimes leaves us feeling depleted, or bloated, for a variety of reasons. The snow will melt, the flu will pass.

     And sunlight shines on Portland in a water-glass.