Today’s blog post is a real and raw one for me. It’s something I have personally been trying to navigate over the past year, but even more so these past few weeks. Subjects like these are the reason I started blogging, and the reason I strive to maintain a blog that is honest & transparent. I want to share life honestly through this blog. Today I am gonna share with you the part of my job I am honestly struggling with: how to leave work AT work.
As I’ve talked about before, (you can read my post about sonography FAQ here) when you’re a sonographer, you can discover a diagnosis that will flip your patient’s life upside down. I remember on my first week of clincals during the ultrasound program, one of my patients was a woman in her first trimester and she was in the middle of miscarrying. Without getting too graphic, she passed a large amount of tissue right after we finished her ultrasound. When we told the nurse, she asked us to wrap up whatever the patient had passed and send it to the pathology lab. Being a student myself, I was a little stunned. I remember walking it over and being in shock about what just happened. As clincals progressed, and we continued to see more and more devastating diagnoses, I found myself really struggling to find the balance of emotions. I mean, we as sonographers don’t share the results with the patients, but there are times they already know what’s going on. Sometimes you’re in these situations, most times, very up close and personal with your patient, how do you not get emotional? Do you ever just want to throw your arms around your patient and hug them when they’re alone? Is that inappropriate? What’s too much? Is it insensitive to NOT do anything? And when you leave work, how do you go about the rest of your day or night without letting those moments with your patients plague your mind?
I remember asking my supervisor (who was amazing in every way) how she doesn’t let emotional cases come home with her. She told me something that will stick with me forever. She said,
“You just pray that, God-willing, your patient has family and friends to cry with, people that will be there for them. You pray that they have enough of those. You are their sonographer, and that’s what they need you to be; the person who is smart and ready to figure out what’s wrong with them”.
MAN, that struck a cord with me!! Granted, not all situations are like this. Sometimes your patient could be in major need of sympathy or a listening ear. But, for those tough cases that are hard to get through, these words are almost always what I hear in my head. The patient needs me to be smart and ready to figure out what’s wrong.
But what about after you’re done with the patient? What about when you’re home at night and still thinking about that patient, that case, that diagnosis?
Like I said earlier, the past month at work has been one of the most emotionally-challenging for me. It all started with an awful case in which I incidentally stumbled upon what appeared to be a cancerous ovarian mass on a girl under age 10. Yes, you read that right. The type of cancer is rare, but it is the most common type of ovarian malignancy in adolescent girls. Through a various set of circumstances, I ended up being in the room when the radiologist gave the diagnosis. The father began to cry as he held his little girl’s hand while I continued to scan. Long after the doctor had left, it was just the father, the little girl and myself in my room. This was the first time in my career I let myself cry in front of a patient. I sat across the bed from the father with his daughter between us in silence.
That case really stayed with me. For the days following, my heart was just broken. I still think about her daily. Several days after that case, I had the kindest older man for a different study, and I incidentally discovered a large liver mass. That very same day, I had a woman come in for nausea, and I found her liver was full of masses. That same week, I found bladder cancer on an unsuspecting man.
These past few weeks have been no different, the malignant diagnoses have continued to come. With each day being filled with stories like this, I really began to leave work with a heavy, saddened heart. I mean, how could I not? I found myself being sad the whole drive home, irritable when I got home, and dreading work by the time I was in bed. I would take my emotions out on Zack by being extremely sensitive after days like these. For the longest time, I have tried not to let work cases make me sad outside of work because I know plenty of other ultrasound techs that don’t ever get emotionally invested in any case. I’ve also met some that maybe get a little too invested in every case. I have found myself trying to make myself be one of those extremes or the other.
Here’s what I am learning: Each new day and each new case will bring with itself a different set of circumstances. Not all cases stick with me. In fact, few do. But when they do, that’s okay. Its okay if finding cancer on a little girl makes me sad for the rest of the shift. It’s okay to go home that night and still think about her. It’s okay if it makes me wonder what God is doing in her life. I can be sad about that. It’s also okay if I have those feelings and am able to go home that night and not still be heartbroken over the case. What I’m learning is to not force myself to have the same uniform reaction to these things. Not all cases will break my heart. Not all cases will be that easy to leave at work. Some will be tougher than others, tougher than most. It’s okay if work comes home with me from time to time. It’s a tough job – physically, mentally and emotionally. I’m learning to navigate it the best I can.
Have you dealt with bringing the emotions from work with you? I’d love to hear how you’ve learned the balance in the ‘Leave a Reply’ section below!