what is compassionate fatigue anyway? its not what most people think.
compassion fatigue is not the inability to feel sad in the face of witnessing death. it has nothing to do with how many tears you can shed. how upset you say you do not feel, hearts that aren't broken every day are not uncaring or hard.
compassion fatigue is simply the inability to be compassionate...to relieve suffering any more. its when we feel we have given too much and have nothing left to give any more. I will know that I am in big trouble with compassionate fatigue when I can walk past a suffering animal and pretend not to see. when I can feel that someone is thirsty but I no longer care enough to go get them some water, or someone is obvious in pain and I do not have it in me to give them a pain med. when an animal is unhappy or stressed and I do not have it in me to care.
as a nurse and as a rescuer of end of life animals..i participate in death a lot. and over the years I have learned to accept the inevitability of death..it happens to everyone who is ever alive. and just because I accept it, and just because I am not crippled by it, and just because it does not wound me to the core every time (unless it is someone deeply connected to me personally ) does NOT mean I do not care. I care a great deal about my patients and our animals..i want the time they have left to be as happy and as comfortable as possible. I want their deaths to be peaceful and pain-free. and I will do everything and anything I can to ensure these goals are achieved.
and yes...there are times that I am deeply moved by the sadness of it...a palliative parent with young children..an elderly man dying alone with no family left to mourn him, an independent and vibrant woman so afraid of impending death that she never comes to terms with it before the end. these things move me but they do not bring me to my knees.
compassion is not just a feeling..it is not how deep or how greatly affected we are.
compassion is action.
it is simply in the most basic of definitions...the will and ability to move into positive action when we witness another's suffering.
maybe I am wrong here but to me the term compassionate fatigue sounds like it means you are too tired to care any more...well..too tired to care about what? that death comes to all and being able to find the strength to accept that is a problem inside us? I think not.
or too tired to bestir ourselves to help someone before our eyes who is thirsty, or in pain, or needs a bedpan or a brief change, whose hip may be sore from being unable to move and needs help to get comfortable again...too tired to stroke the face laid in my lap, too tired to see the sadness staring out of lost eyes and too tired to try to turn back on their hopeful light? too tired to share a cookie that brings someone some joy? too tired to feed, med or put to bed someone who is waiting for me at the end of the day?
how the hell can I ever be too tired to do any of that?
compassion is actions..not airy fairy feelings we sit around and talk about the loss of while someone is suffering down the hall.
that's why I am all for the bullshit fatigue theory in rescue. I don't think we ever get too tired to be compassionate, I think we just get too tired to deal with all of the bullshit that being committedly compassionate brings.