Do I Have Anything Left in Me?

Premier Pulse     October 2021

Belcastro_336x336By Marc Belcastro, DO, system chief medical officer, Premier Health

The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis, shortened to Semper Fi, meaning always faithful. Navy SEALS say, “The only easy day was yesterday,” while a line from their creed is “I am never out of the fight.” The U.S. Airforce Pararescuemen (PJs) sacrificially say, “So that others may live.”

This article is dedicated to our physicians, APPs, nurses, respiratory therapists, and others caring for all our patients, especially those hospitalized secondary to COVID-19. I think about you and pray for you daily. I envision you as a group of highly trained professionals in a pandemic war fighting for our patients’ lives. The mottos from our special forces apply to your daily sacrifice and I cannot express the gratitude and pride I feel. Each motto above easily describes your commitment.

A new challenge has emerged with this most recent surge. You are exposed daily to critically ill patients who suffer complications and sometimes death when these outcomes could have possibly been prevented. Your compassion and call to empathy are being challenged to their very core. Many of you feel this daily frustration that can easily lead to anger and even bitterness. I want to encourage you to remain faithful, stay in the fight, and continue to work so that others may live. As a neonatologist for 30 years, I experienced compassion fatigue in situations I believed may have been preventable. While in no way am I comparing this to the intensity of the current pandemic, I would like to share with you how my fight to remain empathetic carried me through difficult times. 

The following discussion on empathy is taken from a two minute video by Brene' Brown. The link is at the end of this article. Brene' opens with stating, “empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.” She goes on to share research done by Theresa Wiseman, a nursing scholar. Wiseman’s work uncovered four keys to empathy: 1. Perspective Taking. 2. Staying out of Judgment. 3. Recognizing emotion in other people. 4. Communicating that emotion. In summary, empathy is feeling WITH people.

How do we practically do this? What I learned over the years can be summed up with the well-known expression, “less is more.” I worked hard to listen intently with no dialogue in my head and imagine myself in their situation. That helped me feel their pain and suspend judgment. All of us would truly desire empathy if we were facing a crisis, even if it was of our own doing.  My responses were from the heart and simple. A hand on the shoulder, a genuine, “I am so very sorry”, or many times, sitting with the family in silence. There were times when the urge to say more was strong, but I resisted. I saw repeatedly that the silence and my presence were louder and penetrated deeper than anything I could or wanted to say.

Remain faithful, stay in the fight, continue to save lives, and when the clinical course deteriorates, listen, feel, and connect.


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