Addressing the Gap of Spirit and Soul

It didn’t happen all the time. But it showed up enough. As time went on I started to notice a pattern. Pounding shifts night after night that never seemed to end would bring it on. A particular case in the ICU that went days into weeks could be bruising. Or an all-consuming ventilator case with heavy family dynamics – that could be eroding and could consume mentally as well as physically.

Peacefulness in the morning would be the trigger for it to roll in.

I’m just fine

I’d be fine through my shift. Second shift is night time when the emergency fun starts.

I’d be fine on my hour drive home. It was nice to have the radio blaring; singing like the car roof would come off.

I’d be fine doing chores with my horses before going to bed. And, I’d be fine when I laid my head on the pillow.

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”  Sylvia Plath – “The Bell Jar”

But, when I got up and sat down with my cup of coffee I turned into an open faucet. Quiet, sitting, reflecting and the next thing I knew it would pour out. Like a tidal wave, the events of the night before would unravel in front of me. I’d have to put my head on the countertop and sob it out.

A parade of scenes

Sometimes I would see myself wheeling gurneys, lifting dogs, cradling cats, hugging humans. The trauma to bodies can be immeasurable. The disintegration of a body from age and/or disease or neglect or abuse can look like splintered wood.

Or, I might hear the sounds of crying, yelling and barking. I might see euthanasia after euthanasia. I might see DOA after DOA. (Somebody go out and see. Is it a full moon?)

How jumbled the mess was in my head was dependent on the intensity of the night before. I quit smoking years ago, but I’d want a cigarette.

Did I have supper? Or, did I take one bite and run? Did I pee or hold it until I didn’t have to go anymore? You can do that, you know.

One after the other

Jammed in there with the rest of it, was the hug from the woman who lost the “baby before the baby”.  I felt her hug so hard. And she wouldn’t let go. I hugged her hard, too, and hoped she felt my energy. It seemed like a woman thing.

Stuck in between was the grateful couple who found out doctor didn’t feel their dog needed to be euthanized – that night.

And here they come

Worst is the abused – damaged, maimed kittens/cats, dogs/puppies.

Worst is the puppy hanging himself on drapery cords. He was a gift to her by friends after her young husband passed suddenly.

Worst is the dog on the ventilator after being hit by a vehicle.  She, the dog, had been a gift to the boy. And she had been what remained after the boy was killed in a different car crash.

Worst was the man and dog hit while crossing a street by a reckless pizza delivery guy. The man hospitalized the dog dead on arrival.

Worst is… worst is…..

Bawling over my morning coffee became irregularly, regular.

What’s in your head?

Am I holding up a mirror for you? You probably have your own of way of losing it under those behemoth situations. And only you know the definition of ‘losing it’ is for you. Only you know what that looks like. And maybe you question just how strong you are. (Does anyone else break down? Like this?)

There are folks who are mercifully resilient. Like gladiators they rise and stay on the top. They separate themselves in the face of mayhem and are able to keep distant. They seem stout-hearted enough to put all the heaviness of the job in its proper place. I’ve met them and admired them and loved them for who they are.

The reality

The fact is, however, there are more than a fair percentage of professionals in our field that do feel a sense of soul annihilation in the midst of tragic shifts or paralyzing cases. And, still they persist and show up.

There can be a price to pay, though with the cumulative effect. It can take a toll on overall health. I’m not surprised that people look and find a variety of ways to try and block out all the strain, to medicate and numb. And, you have to admit, we can get pretty creative in the numbing- it –all- out department.

Additionally, by the time we’ve given all the compassion away during the day or night, we often have nothing in reserve for self.

Joke but not a joke:   You might need a break from the work you love if…. While checking out in the grocery store you hear the click of the overhead intercom and your heart jumps and you get ready to run for a ‘stat’ triage. Have you ever had that happen? More than once? They looked at me funny the first time that happened.

The current picture

Morbidity and mortality meetings are usually initiated to help improve patient care and practice effective sharing and training. These meetings are necessary to sustain high performance teams. They are clinically oriented and provide an opportunity to fine tune procedures. They are not geared, however, to putting souls back together.

So, we know the undeniable benefit when we gather for the highest good. I believe we must also gather to heal spirit. And who best to be with than your peers. Peers know what you know. They’ve seen what you’ve seen. You have shared. You are part of a collective. You’ve had each other’s back. And you’re trying to put it back together so you can all do it all over again. There is strength in numbers. There is power generated in grouping.

We’re all in the same boat

By creating safe space for you to gather, the magic of self-healing can take place. Healing energy is created by expression, mutual honoring and discussion. Each person bears witness. Each person holds a paddle in the boat. Like a rowing team, as one, moving in the same direction.

No one is judged. All are respected.

Indigenous tribes all over the world have different but similar ways to create safe space.  From Native Americans to Aborigines. From Eskimos to Africans. They know there is healing in a collective circle. And they’ve been doing this since the beginning of their time. I think they were on to something.

The shift has already started

We can do better for each other. We can take better care of our spirit. We’ve chosen a profession that can crush spirit on one hand and fill our heart on the other.

Our profession is making so many changes. We are being stretched far beyond where we’re comfortable. And, we must manage all this as we head into the unknown. But FORWARD is where our eyes are focused. And, with eyes forward we can also include new and innovative ways of caring for each other.

Eyes forward with INTENT

So, why not lay the foundation for a new concept: ‘Sitting in circle when needing to heal.’ This is a bold concept for veterinary medicine. But, I believe we are ready. I also believe this is part of our evolution.

We do such a great job with innovative ideas when it comes to caring for our families and patients – mind, body and soul. Going into this next life’s chapter, I would like to see us do the same for our exhausted selves. Start your kitchen table discussions.

And, if you sent your survey in, thank you very much.