Friday, May 10, 2019
Nurses' Week: Moving Forward and Podcast with Lisbeth Overton
I had a conversation with my friend Lisbeth Overton yesterday in a podcast for Nurses' Week (listen here). We talked about the difference between moving forward one foot in front of the other in a way that breaks you down, versus moving forward intentionally with progress. I want to say more about that because right now, between healthcare and the crazy shit happening in our country, it can be easy to go to a place of despair.
I've found myself over the past month deteriorating into that place of despair and realized I need to get out and move more. I have been so bad about allowing myself to not go outdoors to run in the bad weather this winter. I need the fresh air and the brain break it gives me. Being a bit of a political news junkie and overthinker has not been working in my favor lately.
Lisbeth and I talked about how so many nurses are struggling and frustrated with the opportunities and working conditions their profession affords. They want to use their knowledge, talents, and skills to truly make a difference in patients’ lives, but often there is no place for that in the task-oriented, rushed and understaffed workplaces of healthcare facilities and hospitals.
Many nurses wish they could break out of the grind, find a better job that allows them to practice patient care they way they’d like to. They can feel stuck, which leads to despair, low morale, burnout, and health problems, none of which are good for taking care of sick people.
There are two ways you can move forward: one is to grind through, trudging with dread because you feel like you have no choice. The other way to move forward is by taking small steps, still moving forward, not any faster, but with intention and action, no matter how small those actions are, but doing something to move yourself toward better days.
The lesson, I think, that ultrarunners have learned, that sedentary people need, is that active leisure is such an important and undervalued part of our lives. It seems that so many people have forgotten how to play. Too busy chasing material objects, or buried in our electronic gadgets and devices, we end up sitting down as time flies past us.
The time focused on a screen takes away from the time we’re aware of our environment, using all our senses, learning, and appreciating what is in our world at arm’s length. Unaware of our surroundings, we could be moving and breathing, paying attention, burning calories, reducing our fatigue, circulating our blood, and boosting our mood and energy.
People who have not pushed themselves toward physical goals, who are not athletes, often miss out on the rich lessons that athletes learn, of pushing beyond prior achievements, and refusing to accept outwardly-imposed limits. We're always looking to go further, in distance, time, space, or experience.
Working with cancer patients, acutely ill people, and those with chronic disease, I've observed what being an athlete can do for a person in terms of mental and physical strength. Athletes who do get sick are at a big advantage, not just in terms of likelihood of recovery and regaining function and quality of life after an illness, but in coping with the physical and mental demands of an illness, even when there is a discouraging prognosis.
I used to say to my co-workers in the hospital, that it was easier to run a fifty miler than work a twelve hour shift. None of them believed me, but for me it was true. If you're going to be on your feet for 12 hours, you might as well be outside without crazy demands on you every second. Plus you can eat, drink, and pee whenever you want!
When it comes down to it, nursing is about public health, helping people (the public) get healthier, function more effectively, and live better lives. All of the major issues facing our country right now are connected to public health. Here is an incomplete list:
1. Income inequality- the greed, sociopathy and lack of empathy that leads us to a place where a few people have the overwhelming majority of wealth so that large numbers of people are unable to meet their own basic needs or access adequate services that allow them a decent opportunity at a decent standard of living and level of health. People who have to work two or more jobs to pay their bills are unable to take care of their own health.
2. The lack of mental health services, proper care and treatment of addiction, unaffordability of health insurance and prescription drugs, and near-monopolies that destroy competition and drive up prices, make decent healthcare out of reach even for those with health insurance.
3. Our stressful lifestyle- too many people are working too hard for too little compensation for things that are too expensive and often unnecessary. Poor community planning leads to overreliance on vehicles and commutes that are detrimental to our environment, people's health, and financial well-being. We don't have enough mental health services available and people don't demand them because of stigma associated with mental illness.
4. Obesity and metabolic disease are an epidemic, for many of the reasons cited above- community planning, mental health, low incomes, working several jobs, lack of education, feeling powerless, cycles of abuse...
5. The opioid crisis, a result of greed, poverty, lack of mental health services, lack of education, unemployment, family and social cycles of stress and despair.
6. The gun violence epidemic- children and teachers shouldn't be traumatized by the idea of being shot at school, and parents shouldn't be traumatized by dropping their kids off at school to get an education. We had another shooting this week in Colorado in Highlands Ranch. Our U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, big NRA money recipient, has blood on his hands. AGAIN. And again, nothing is being done legislatively to stop this.
I think if we could solve one of these problems I think income inequality and the factors that lead to it are the key. I think nurses need to make it our business to push for social change. And I don't think we've done nearly enough on that front, at least not in a publically vocal and visible way. Nurses care for other people regardless of who they are, their background, what they look like, or other characteristics. No matter how much the current sociopathic executive in chief wants to erode this.
Nurses could teach the public a lot about how to truly care for others and to see the humanity in everyone. I think it is something we've lost in our country- the idea of caring for others and considering others' needs before asserting one's privilege and "rights". If we cared for and about each other, we would be caring for ourselves, too.