Fatigue Stories from the front lines

October 2010   Comments

Fatigue can manifest itself in many ways, and it doesn’t affect only shift workers in hospitals. We asked five nurses to share their personal experiences with fatigue — the cause, its impact on their work and home life, and how they got past it. The following stories are real, but names and identifying details have been changed to protect privacy

“I’m more aware now. When it was happening, I didn’t realize it.”

Mary’s story
I did almost 18 years of hospital shift work. I was always working on my days off because of staff shortages, and there was usually only a short turnover between my shifts. There was no time for breaks because the workload was so heavy and the pace so fast. But I didn’t realize how tired I was until I got out of hospital nursing. I started working in community health, and that’s when the fatigue hit me.

It took me almost a year to get over feeling tired all the time. Sometimes I would just zone out. I could hear people talking to me but couldn’t understand what they were saying. My thought processes were all mixed up. At home I was so exhausted, I sometimes couldn’t do even simple household chores like cooking dinner. I napped every day, but the more I slept, the more tired I was. Eventually it got to the point where I almost had a mental breakdown. I ended up in a crisis situation and had to take time off work.

I was off for three months, and I went into counselling. Once I realized how tired I was, I knew I had to learn to listen to my body and take time for me. I always take my holidays now, but I don’t use them all up at once — I spread them out throughout the year. If I start getting cranky, that’s a warning sign; I take a break from work, and while I’m away I make a conscious effort not to check my e-mail or answer my work phone.

I have a colleague who experienced burnout, and she has talked to me about how she dealt with it. That was a real eye-opener, because it made me realize I’m not alone.

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