I have been working somewhat peripherally with the NICU and obstetrics nurses at my institution around the topic of compassion fatigue. I spoke on this topic at the annual countywide perinatal bereavement conference this past winter. Since then, the nurses have asked me to join their perinatal bereavement committee on an ad hoc basis.
Several weeks ago, the committee chair saw me in the elevator and said she was going to be contacting me. The group would like my help to start some version of compassion fatigue rounds, she said, but they weren't sure how or in what way to go about it. I told the chair I would think about some options to present to the committee. I also said that perhaps we first needed to consider some type of intervention, "baby steps" per se, to enable the nurses to get in touch with their feelings. I have found (I explained) that many nurses have difficulty putting their emotions related to loss and grief into spoken word.
In reviewing my materials for this upcoming meeting, I have identified some exercises that may be instructive and therapeutically revealing. So with this intent of self-care and healing, I'd like to share with you some of these options for you to consider for yourself and perhaps your work team.
Exercise No. 1: the letter writing experience
In the first person, write a letter to a patient who died who you still think about. Describe your feelings when you took care of them. Tell them why they were special to you. Speak to unresolved issues you still carry with you.
Exercise No. 2: career reflection
Find three pictures that depict you across your nursing career. Ideally, these should be one around the time you graduated from your basic nursing program, one "mid-tenure," and one current photo. Align them on a blank piece of paper landscape style. Under each photograph, put descriptors of you in each phase of your career.
Exercise No. 3: the wounded self-dialogue
Write a monologue in the third person about your sadness and grief (e.g.,"Nancy is 42, a staff nurse in the bone marrow transplant unit in a large academic medical center, and she has had a particularly difficult week at work"). Address losses that are work-related and any personal sadness you experience or feel that is unresolved or lingering.
What did you discover about yourself? Not until the roots of melancholy are explored can any aspect of healing materialize.