Care of Self (by guest blogger Lindsay Herndon)


Admit it. You’ve been at work, stressed about everything happening in your life. Pay the bills, get the kids to study, oil change for the car, takethe dog to the vet.

And then you pause. Because you think to yourself, “my patient has this way worse than me.”

“I should be able to handle this. I didn’t just have chemo. I didn’t just have surgery. I didn’t just have a transplant.”

But do you mean it?

When our patients and families speak to us, confide their deep fears and insecurities in the privacy of their rooms, they see the tension in our eyes. Despite how well we may try to hide it, they see us flinch and sigh in defeat. They notice when we zone out, our own thoughts traveling back to that oil change. We tell ourselves that when we clock in, we’re here for the patients. But do we really do that? Are we true to ourselves and to them?

Working with oncology patients has taught me so much about myself, more than any other field of nursing or any life event. Oncology nursing has taught me about honesty. Honesty with my patients, honesty with my colleagues, my family, myself.

Our American culture pushes us to work work work, hold in all the worries, keep it tucked away because you can’t show your vulnerabilities. We have to keep part of ourselves closed off.

But why?

Our Professional Practice model speaks of care of self. I never knew what this meant until I worked with oncology patients. I never knew what it meant until I came to the James. Yes, we all know it. Thirty minutes of exercise, three veggies a day, call your family, get some sunlight. We’ve heard it all. But have we heard it? Do we know what it means to practice self-care?

Self-care takes exploring your thoughts, your needs. Maybe a trip to the gym is self-care to someone. But for another, it’s a walk in the Hocking Hills. For another, it’s hot tea in a sunny window. And for another, it’s baking cookies for the kids. There is no one recipe for self-care, just like there is no one recipe to treat cancer. Personalized medicine is the wave of the future, but for us, it should be the wave of right now.

I challenge everyone to take twenty – no – ten minutes. Five minutes. Take the time you need and ask yourself, “how do my batteries recharge?” “How do I refresh myself?” “How do I give back to me?” It means something different for all of us. And if there’s one thing I can promise you (yes, from personal experience), it’s this: care of self is just as important as care of your patients. You cannot run on auto-pilot in this profession. We practice nursing with all of our heart, so let’s do better to practice caring for ourselves with all of our heart.