Monday, December 05, 2005

Melancholy Monday: Affirmations

I had a really shitty day today at work. Actually I’ve had a really shitty week. I’ve had a few kids who have passed away, and a few more who received potentially fatal diagnoses while in the ER for what was thought to be the flu. Every so often, my work begins to take its toll on me emotionally, and I wonder how long I’ll be able to do this before I burn out. I wonder how long it will be before I can’t find the words to comfort a mother who lost her child, how long before I can’t find it within myself to hold a child’s hand as she is told that she has cancer.

But just as I’m starting to feel the emotional overload, I always obtain an affirmation from a patient or a family member that reminds me of why I keep coming back for more.

Today I was working with a family in the ER whose three year old daughter received a particularly horrific diagnosis three weeks ago. I was with them in the room when they received the diagnosis, and I have been with their daughter for every blood draw, every IV stick, every blood transfusion, every x-ray. She always looks right at me, and cries over and over about how much it hurts. And the only thing that I can really do is offer her some validation, some verbal support. I usually leave feeling defeated. Defeated because I can't do enough for her.

Today I was involved in another one of her treatments, and put my head right next to hers while the nurses where inserting her IV and we sang “You are my sunshine” over and over again. She still cried per usual, but when it was all over she sat up and said “you’re good at your job.” It seems so insignificant, but the voice of this little girl who I have seen through so many tests and scans and procedures, saying those words just lit me up. It was my affirmation that my work is meaningful, and at least for now, it is enough to get me over the emotional hump evoked by the past week's defeats.

I suppose that we all need to receive these affirmations…. Friends of mine who are teachers say that they are always overjoyed to receive letters or emails from past students saying how their teaching has afected their lives. My mom is a real estate agent and has made a book of the thank you notes and cards from long since wilted bouquets of flowers that she has received from clients over the years. She reads through them every time she is thinking about a career change.

At times we all just need little reminders that the work we do is evoking some sort of positive change for people. Whether that affirmation comes through a raise in salary, some extra time off, words from a grateful friend, an email from a long lost student, or the words of a three year old, I think that sometimes we all need some sort of validation that our choices were the right ones, that we chose the right profession, that we are where we belong.