When caring for others, don’t forget yourself

My daughter took a gap year after her A Levels. As she was planning to study Medicine, she decided to spend the gap year working as a Health Care Assistant (HCA). The work was hard, the hours long but she enjoyed herself. 

She had a regular list of patients she used to visit every day. One of these was elderly and lived alone and had lost touch with family. 

One day when she entered the flat she saw the patient lying on the floor. She rushed to the patient and started to check for vital signs. The patient was unresponsive. When she had started work she had had to attend training and that included CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). She had been told that people sometimes “freeze” and don’t start CPR. She told herself she wasn’t going to be one of these. She rang 999 and started CPR. An ambulance arrived within minutes and the paramedics took over. Unfortunately, nothing could be done and the patient was pronounced dead. Up till then my daughter had been calm and collected and doing what she had been trained to do. When she heard that her patient had died, that’s when she became upset and started to cry. One of the paramedics came and sat with her while the rest did what had to be done. He asked her for the office number and rang her boss. He then started talking to her about her job and what made her choose this as a career. She told him she was on a gap year and was doing this before going off to university. He then asked what she hoped to study. She told him Medicine. What he said next is the point of this blog. He said she had learnt a valuable lesson today. She had learnt that no matter how much you care for a patient, no matter what you do, you will lose patients. The first death is very hard. It doesn’t matter if you are a Medical student, a qualified doctor, a nurse or a paramedic or HCA, everyone goes through what she was going through when they lose their first patient. Then, as they progress through their career they learn not to get as personally affected as they did when they lost the first patient. It’s not that they stop caring, it’s because they know that patients will keep coming through the door expecting to be treated. They know that they have to put emotions aside and treat the new patients. They also understand that their own wellbeing depends on taking care of themselves. For the sake of their other patients and for the sake of their own wellbeing they need to learn how not to let anything affect them because if they can’t do this then their work will suffer and perhaps their own health too. 

The paramedic stayed with my daughter till her boss arrived who took her back to the office once the formalities were completed. 

It appears to me that what the paramedic was trying to make my daughter understand is something which applies to another vocational profession, teaching. As Summer Turner said, “Caring is wonderful, but when it means emotions overshadow all we do, it becomes a burden for teachers and pupils alike.” 

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