Compassion Satisfaction: 50 Steps to Healthy Caregiving, a book by Patricia Smith, delineates the author's thoughts on energizing ways for caregivers (both lay and professional) to practice authentic, sustained, daily self-care.
I thought it might be good to share some of her ideas with this oncology nurse readership. I have added my own considerations for your contemplation:
Start your day with a ritual that puts you in a state of positivity
I begin my day with several minutes of concerted self-talk (sometimes what I deem a "mini-prayer") in my car ride on my way to work. I say things like, "Please God, help me make a special act of kindness to someone at work today," or "Help me realize the difference I made in a patient's life as a result of my nursing advocacy."
Build balance into your life every day
At night, I similarly engage in self-talk (as I do in the morning) and reflect on what happened in a positive nature during work so that I go to sleep realizing the positive impact of my day.
Awaken your senses with flowers
Treat yourself to the beauty and artistry of flowers when you go grocery shopping each week. You don't have to buy the most expensive bouquet. Just focusing on the colors and inhaling the smell is a stress-reducing exercise.
Invite children related to the ill person to draw or color large murals to hang on the wall
I recently took some large newspaper print (often used in team exercises at work) and had a patient's grandchild draw a picture of his grandpa with his nurses. We hung it prominently on the wall at the foot of the patient's bed. It was a constant source of laughter for all who ventured into the room.
Schedule special blessingsCollaborating with pastoral/spiritual care (for those of us in hospital settings) is an important team-building strategy. It is also effective for minimizing compassion fatigue as it addresses the highly emotion-laden domains of nursing practice. In several settings where I have worked, I have witnessed first-hand the positive effects of clergy enacting a "Blessing of Nurse Hands" where clergy come to the nursing units and bless nurses' hands and say a brief yet powerful prayer that addresses nurses' special roles in the lives of patients and their families.
Caregivers can make an enormous difference in the lives of those they care for by opening the door to technologyDo not underestimate the enduring impact of taking photos (particularly when you know patients are not doing well), encouraging families to Skype, or making videos with cameras or iPads. I personally have found that my attention to these possibilities has made an enormous difference to family grief reactions as their time with loved ones at the most critical phases of their illness has been immortalized on film.
Suggest a guest book for visitors who are welcome to sign in and leave a message behind
This intervention hit home with me when one of our staff nurses was diagnosed with cancer and was hospitalized for her treatment. She was experiencing significant fatigue and symptom distress and was inundated with visitors. An astute staff nurse colleague identified the idea to create a guest book to be placed outside her door for messages to be relayed to her. Our ill colleague looked forward to reading these messages at the end of her day and found this intervention extremely supportive.
Ask permission to bring in an animal to visit
Who can dismiss the power of animal therapy? I have noted that even when pets come to the floor to visit patients, it is the nurses who rush to see the dog first! This is a most under-recognized support intervention that cannot be minimized -- we need to do everything we can to foster this type of support.
Participate in reminiscence therapy
This therapy is a well-recognized intervention within the specialty of gerontology that has significant implications for oncology nursing. The benefits of undertaking a life review are considerable, especially as the end of life is contemplated in the near future.
Good communication takes work
We must remain hypervigilant of the need to enact exemplary communication skills along with those that are physiological in nature. This includes communication that focuses on the provision of emotional support and that which enables us to teach the patient and family effectively. Patients and families may not be aware of free web-based programs, such as Caring Bridge, that offer an excellent venue to share information with extended family on a timely basis. Skype can also be used to communicate with long-distance families worried about their loved one but unable to be physically present to visit. I have suggested the use of Skype to record patient/physician discussions about treatment so that loved ones can hear first-hand what is transpiring from a distance.
Some of the above considerations address the caregiver directly and others offer suggestions to help care for the patient more effectively, which in turn may promote healthy caregiving. Bring up these suggestions with co-workers to ascertain their thoughts about the feasibility of implementing them in practice.