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Are You On Fire?

Much like a forest fire, our spirits can experience a natural disaster.

A forest fire is destructive and dangerous, it wipes out all that is good and healthy and beautiful. It exerts its power and overwhelms everything in its path.

In nursing many of us come to a point in our career where the fire has overwhelmed our soul and we haven’t realized it or stopped to take a moment to appreciate the toxicity of the smoke surrounding us. We may fail to do the important growth work that is so integral to how we care for others. We forget to periodically evaluate our own forest—to look for the old and the brittle, the dry bushes, the dry earth, the lack of flora.

When we care for others it is so easy to forget what your forest looked like when you began your walk on the nursing trail. Our time is devoted to service for thirty six hours and then we go home for four days and spend half of that catching up on sleep and then the rest of it running around like mad to get all of our errands taken care of, the bills paid, the kids to where they need to be. Keeping our insides nourished is not on the priority list.

Combustion in nursing can have many causes. There are issues innate to the work. We care for our fellow man…and care….and care…and care some more. At the end of the day…or six years…or twenty years, we may have lost the vitality and possibility that were once in abundance in our own forests. The shady trees are gone, the creeks have emptied of fish and water. As he does in nature, man can keep taking until everything is gone and then stand before a desert and wonder what happened. Our patients take from us—our strength, our love, our hope, our compassion, our patience and they forget (as do we) that our resources can run dry.

If  you’ve taken a look inside and realized there’s only a desert left…well then, it’s time to plop down in the middle of that desert and look around you for signs of life. It’s there, and when you find it you will know what to do to grow your forest again. Is it time for a change in nursing specialty? Are you passionate about educating nurses or people? Maybe you’ve been ignoring the desire to get involved and learn more about nurse politics. Whatever that little piece of greenery inside of you is—don’t underestimate its strength and possibility.

Not only can we be drained by caring for patients, we drain each other by the way we treat one another. Humans are very good at setting fires not just in nature but on the inside of each other. Nurses are experts. If rangers knew about us we’d be banned from natural parks all around the country. Instead of helping to put out fires within each other to save the good things and help them grow stronger—we may throw matches in the middle of the beauty and watch destruction happen.

It’s called HORIZONTAL VIOLENCE…STOP!…. Look at the nurse next to you and don’t look at him or her as merely a person, but as a very important part in the balance in nature. When you do this it’s a reminder that all living things need nourishment and careful attention and handling. What can you do to add to another nurse’s forest so it flourishes? Make an effort to discover something new about the nurse next to you. What’s unique about them? As you would stop and admire a rare flower on a trail, admire the something new and different about the nurse sitting next to you. “Wow, look at this rare flower, there aren’t any others like it! How cool is this!” SHARE admiration with the nurse next to you. You’ve just now made a small contribution to their spirit and to the resources he or she will have to provide care to others.

Amid the destruction, fires also clear away what is no longer useful. They can be a source of renewal. They rid the earth of the old so that creation can begin again. Where there is destruction and ruin there is also the possibility of creation. Things may never grow back the same or in the same place, maybe there will be some completely different species of plants that crop up that have never been seen before. There is beauty in a recreating oneself after a fire, reevaluating the remnants, deciding what’s necessary to keep and what’s necessary to “let go.” Our work as humans is not static. Life and change are one in the same. You will change, your heart will change, your colleagues will change, and your dreams and goals pertaining to nursing will change. We don’t have control of change, for the most part. But as nurses we can put out the forest fire burning its way through our profession.

The next time you are at work, GET OVER the workplace politics, the gossip, who is answering the most call lights or who is getting the best assignments, who got to be resource nurse for two days in a row, or who took five minutes too long on their lunch break. These are the matches and the gasoline in our profession. When you find yourself engaging in these behaviors—remember you have the power to save and nourish the forest around you or the power to contribute to its destruction and the depletion of your own inner forest. It takes a few seconds to water a plant or flower at your house. If we all took just a few seconds a day to provide some water and nourishment and soil to one another as nurses…just imagine how insanely, blindingly, beautiful our forest would be…and its future.

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