I don't care. Well... that’s how I feel at work some days, due to compassion fatigue. Usually I’m more than happy to speak with a client regarding their pet’s charges, but on my bad days I’m hesitant and it takes great muster to dial their number or walk into the exam room. Why??
I am a happy-go-lucky, positive, love-to-do-my-job person. But in a field where there are SO many emotions swirling around at all times, there’s inevitable compassion fatigue lurking behind a corner (or under diarrhea, or in a litter box) just waiting to grab hold. When I get compassion fatigue, it makes my ambition to perform my job falter.
For me compassion fatigue can be the result of sad, negative, depressing energy in the workplace. It can also involve taking on/letting in client emotions and being on the receiving end of venting, frustrated, angry clients.
One time I worked with a client who was very high-maintenance: demanding and trying. After they realized they couldn’t bully me into allowing them to not keep their account compliant (they wanted to set up a payment plan, which we do not offer) I had to chase them down everyday. I made two to four calls before they would pick up or call back. The patient was in our ICU for six days. It was very draining and time consuming and I had at least five other clients that I needed to financially update and take daily deposits from.
On top of that the ICU was extremely busy, causing the ICU DVM to be extremely busy and pulled in many directions. So I was lurking around trying to find an appropriate minute to catch them and go over the day’s patient plans. I will explain to DVMs when clients have expressed financial concerns/limits of spending so that the medical plan can fit accordingly. Sometimes (because of case specifics or other relevant reasons) this can bring up kind of judgmental feelings from the medical staff, which is then voiced to me.
I understand this is necessarily vented frustration, but it’s yet another emotional exchange that is added to my already frazzled state of mind. This can be hard to deal with; a client that is fatiguing me, super busy day dealing with other clients, and frustrated co-workers, all of whom are using me as a “sounding board.” It’s a big part of my job to listen to the clients concerns, rants, opinions and my mom always said, “You can hear much better with your mouth closed.” But sometimes it can be just too much to handle in a day.
After years of being at my job I’m now pretty aware of when I feel lack of compassion. This self-awareness has allowed me to learn the best ways to help me deal with and process it. This can include stepping into an exam room/washroom for a five-minute snot cry/deep breath, a quick walk around the block, or just reminding myself to let it go, smile and start fresh. These have worked quite well for me, but of course there are times when I just need a day off to get away from it all and really let it go. I have a thick skin and know that what clients say isn’t personal towards me, but I’m exposed to it day in and day out, on top of euthanasia, and co-workers’ own feelings and compassion fatigue… it can get to me.
I do many activities outside of work as well to ensure I have a good work/life balance, and that when I’m away from work I’m not thinking about it. This allows my mind and thoughts to really process and be able to let it go, which in turn allows me to come back to work refreshed, compassionate, enthusiastic, positive and happy.
Writing this blog has made me emotionally tired… My crying blog (The Crying Game) didn’t even make me tired. That proves to me that compassion fatigue is a very real part of my daily job, as well as my co-workers. It’s something that can contribute to miscommunication, laziness, arguments, poor client service, frustration, and negativity. It’s something that drives us apart but also bonds us since we all experience it and often share it. It’s important to recognize this stuff in ourselves as well as those around us, so that we can address it together accordingly and in a timely fashion.
So if I can say writing this particular blog has fatigued me, maybe I need a day off. Or that might be a coincidence with the weather predictions saying Portland will be sunny, 75 degrees F this weekend…