When self-doubt creeps in

Posted by , 7 June 2017

All it takes is one incident…

I’m usually pretty resilient. I have dealt with all manner of tough stuff in my life and remained reasonably calm and focused – the loss of family several members in awful circumstances, problems with children, tough jobs, nursed good friends until they died. Recently though, I found myself in a situation that struck me to the core. It absolutely broke me. And I am not easily broken.

In my 10 years as a nurse, I have met many, many wonderful people. Some of them have been more challenging than others, but on the whole the experiences have been positive and I have felt that I have helped, albeit in a very small way, to make things a little easier for them along the way.

At the end of last week I found myself on the receiving end of verbal abuse followed by a dozen very vitriolic emails that came thick and fast into my inbox and left me literally gasping for air and crying my eyes out. There was no time to catch my breath before the next one arrived, and then the next, and the next.

One frustrated, unhappy, mentally unwell person had the ability to rock me to my core in almost a heartbeat. It left me a blubbering mess and unable to continue with my day. It left me unbelievably fearful – of checking my email, of answering my telephone, of coming face-to-face with this person, and fearful for her own safety due to some of the threats she made. I’m guessing it doesn’t take much to escalate from verbal and written abuse to actual physical violence.

It left me wondering where I had gone wrong? What had I missed? Why was I not good enough? Most of all, it left me wondering whether I could actually continue in my job. Violence (of any sort) is not in my job description. It takes a monumental effort to actually report it and admit that it has done damage. But the damage is real. Hateful words cannot be unheard. Written words cannot be unseen.

We all heard about the surgeon in Melbourne last week who was punched outside the hospital he worked at and is now left in a position where he may never be able to do his job or lead a normal life again. We’ve read countless articles and stories about nurses and doctors being assaulted and abused by patients and members of the public. But did we ever think for one minute that it’s not all about physical abuse?

There are different types of abuse, bullying and harrassment. One study found that three out of four nurses have experienced violence at work, and nine out of ten suffered verbal abuse. I never, not even for a moment, thought I would be on the receiving end of it from a patient.

What I have learned in the past few days is that no matter how skilled you are, not matter how much empathy you have for your patients, no matter how hard working you might be, no matter how dedicated to your job you are….it only takes one nasty knock to erode your self confidence and leave you wondering why you bother and whether you can actually keep going. You forget all of the positive feedback you have received. You stop seeing the thank you cards and notes and small gifts of appreciation. You can’t picture the faces of the hundreds people who have hugged you and thanked you for your care and compassion.

At absolute breaking point, I realised I could not deal with this on my own. I reported and my managers responded swiftly and were very supportive. But no matter how good the response, the end result is the same. I am exhausted, broken and unsure of myself. There is a part of me that will never be repaired. Even micropore, the nurse’s answer to duct tape, can’t fix this.

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