Wednesday, June 2, 2010

For Those Who Love a Helping Professional ...

This week I read a blog post that touched my heart. It was written by Clarke Cayton, the Crisis Chaplain of the Ozark Crisis Response Unit in the US and it goes like this:

My wife has been an Emergency Room nurse for two years now. She works 7 pm to 7 am, 3 nights a week. For about the first year of this arrangement, I always found it interesting that, for the most part, I could tell how my wife's shift went by how much noise I heard coming from the kitchen when she got home. The clanking of pots and slamming of cabinet doors was a good indicator for me that I had some quality listening time in my future. Sure enough, after the kitchen was spotless and the neighbourhood wide awake, she would come to me, throw herself on the bed and either burst into tears or swear to me that she would never go back to that dreadful place.

Lucky for me, I am a Crisis Chaplain and professional stress management consultant specializing in Field Traumatology and Compassion Fatigue, so I have all the answers and know all the tricks. Ha ha, right. I would typically just hold my wife and let her cry and vent. Not much else I could do. Or so I thought.

We have been married for 5 years now and have learned a lot about what it means to put one another first, and in many ways we make a pretty good team. This being so, there are times when I find that what I am hearing from her isn't always what she is saying to me. So I have made a commitment to listen to my wife a little sharper. And what I have heard has changed my life. And hers.

What I began to hear was not that she hated her job or despised the abuse of the emergency health care system, but that through her passion to help people and her commitment to nursing excellence, every night she would put herself on the line and give it all she had. This level of investment requires an immense amount of commitment and sacrifice because, to be honest, the environment of the ER is rarely wholesomely rewarding. She was coming home physically and emotionally exhausted every morning, completely spent.

Oh, and the clanking in the kitchen? Yeah, that was my fault. See, my wife had spent the last 12 hours going above and beyond: wading through blood, vomit, bad attitudes, and verbal abuse. All because she cares about people. This is the definition of compassion, and by morning her fuel is just gone. So what happens when a fatigued wife comes home to a less than spotless kitchen after busting her tail tending to all the needs of everyone else but her own?


So, I tried something. I decided that if she was going to lay it on the line for the sake of others for 12 hours, I could probably take a couple of minutes and wipe down the counters, hang the towel back on the rack, and clean the junk off the kitchen table. Guess what? She doesn't come home in a tirade anymore. Because her reaction wasn't one to an especially bad night, since most nights are bad nights. Rather, it's a reaction to being in an environment where she constantly bore the responsibility to fix, help, care and make better, only to come home to an environment that needed more of the same.

When I've asked her about this, she tells me, "You have no idea what it means to me to come home and know that everything is done. It's all put away, it's all clean, and everything that I feel responsible for, you have already done for me. All that stress is just released because home is now my shelter and my rest."

Here is the key: When home is a refuge and a place for recovery, the fuel of compassion gets refilled and the courage to face the world, no matter how ugly, is replenished.

Want to be able to support your responder spouse when they are worn out from serving others?

Just serve them.

Listen to what they are really saying. And grant them rest.

This is stress management.

It's also called love.

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