I have been told that for not being a direct caregiver, I seem to have a pretty good idea of what it’s actually like. I think there’s two reasons for this: number one, I like people and I’m sensitive to the underlining emotions that are happening amidst the obvious; and number two, I’ve known my fair share of police officers.
What? you say. How does knowing cops correlate to understanding hospital caregivers? I’ll tell you: it didn’t take me long working within the walls of a hospital to begin to see the similarities between caregivers and cops. The stresses and strains of their professions and the way they wear on them physically and emotionally are very similar.
Some of the obvious similarities include their crazy, gawd awful schedules. Both professions work extremely long hours and are often times torn between sleep, family, and work. They work holidays away from their families. It’s not uncommon for a cop or a nurse or a doctor to work three or four 12-hour graveyard shifts, only to have to power through a training from 10am-2pm the next day just because, well, that’s when the training was scheduled.
Both professions are no strangers to the wear of long hours on their feet, heavy eyelids aching for sleep, and the amount of juggling it takes to coordinate life with an opposite schedule than that of your family.
Both care deeply for others and impact the lives they touch in profound and lasting ways. They see people in their most vulnerable state, and they have power in those moments to personally make a difference in people’s lives in their toughest times, everyday. In the midst of this, they are tied to an insane amount of regulations, laws, and protocols and they must document everything. Their every move could be used in a court case, and they have to be willing to defend their actions.
They put themselves in harms way: a gunfight, or an exposure to bodily fluid through an accidental needle stick– both could mean grave consequences. They are faced with these possibilities everyday.
They are expected to care and assist anyone who needs their help, not just those who are easy to help, or who smell good, or who are kind. They help everyone. The innocent, the guilty–everyone. Cops, once they have made a hostile situation safe, are expected to drop to their knees and give first aid to those who, for example, were just trying to kill them or the innocent around them. Nurses and doctors give aid to save the innocent, as well as the perpetrators. Both of their jobs are not to judge, but to serve.
Cops and caregivers are put in situations most people would never dream of. They suffer from survivor guilt. They carry heavy burdens of others’ tragedies home with them. They feel the pain and hurt of senseless acts of violence. They experience the kind of violence most of us only see on TV, only for them it’s real and it cannot be turned off or changed to a different channel. They live the nightmares through until they are over. And then they come back the next day and do it again.
Jamie Coleman, a trauma surgeon, writes about the impact her patients have on her in her blog post A Surgeon’s Survivor’s Guilt:
I have said before how we all take you, our patients and communities, home with us at night, but please also know that our lives are never the same either. Every patient encounter alters us – sometimes subtly, and sometimes drastically. We are changed, and we never forget.
So if you see someone who works in healthcare today or a police officer, smile. Give them a high five. Tell them how much you appreciate what they do. They are keeping our communities afloat. When we are lost and cannot care for or protect ourselves, they do it for us.
“Thank you” just doesn’t seem to be enough.