I devoured these two books in 48 hours. Could not put them down.
Tilda Shalof is an intensive care nurse who works in Toronto and has been in the field for over 20 years. She is also a gifted writer and storyteller. I found her books riveting for two reasons. The first is that I have always loved hospitals (go figure, I know that is rather unusual) and found her account of working in the ICU absolutely fascinating. She describes the dynamics between nurses, dealing with doctors and residents, patients and their families, particularly when things go wrong.
The second thing I found fascinating about these books was her description of the challenges of the work on nurses’ emotional and physical well being. In “The making of a nurse” she describes the phenomenon of somatic empathy perfectly: “[patients] needed to feel that I was steady and in control, but I couldn’t always offer them that security. I caught their emotions as if they were contagious. Sometimes, merely being in the presence of a patient, family member, or even another nurse, who was flustered, anxious, or angry would affect me, and I would respond in tandem.“ [...]
“I’m panicking,” she said in a tremulous voice. I looked around the room for a chair and luckily, just then, the technician caught her as she keeled over. Full-blown panic had finally done her in […] I exhaled, I hadn’t realized how shallow my breathing had become, how tight my chest was, how jittery I felt. I had caught a bad case of her panic” Tilda Shalof, (2007, p.130)
This is a concept that I discuss at length during my half day and full compassion fatigue workshops. Babette Rothschild explores several concrete strategies to deal with this somatic empathy in her book Help for the Helper (2006).
One caveat: A colleague of mine who has a great deal of experience in acute care nursing did warn that Tilda’s books may be retraumatizing for anyone who has worked in critical care or has experienced ICU first or second hand as her descriptions are quite detailed and very accurate. (thank you for that, Jan)
I’m off to Montreal this week, to present at the Jewish Rehabilitation Hospital, then Timmins next week for a one day presentation in the community. This has been a full and busy Fall with a lot of writing and workshop design and more to come. It’s a wonderful profession. Truly.