Return to work

Last week I went back to work. I work three 12 hour night shifts a week and just completed my fourth shift a couple nights ago. I had been dreading it and the only fear that I correctly anticipated was the fear of being away from Carlos. I knew I would never be ready to return to work, which is the same hospital that Sylvia was delivered at, but at some point I had to just do it. By the last shift I was exhausted. I was drained, worn down and I felt heavy, as if I was wearing 50 pound shoes. I felt like I was melting into the chair when I was sitting at work, I collapse into Carlos’ arms when he visits me half way through my shift and after I deliriously drive home, I stumble through my front door, strip off my scrubs and fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow. It is a much different fatigue than anything else I have experienced and it wasn’t until after four full shifts that I realized what was causing it. It is an exhaustion not due to the job itself, or even being on night shift, it is a state of burn out caused entirely by pretending to be happy for 12 hours. 

I have always been someone who is open about my emotions and I easily share my thoughts. I don’t think that professionally I ever bring outside emotional influences to my job and even if I was having a bad day, I doubt many coworkers would pick up on it based on my mood or actions. In general, I pride myself on a good, easy-going attitude and being a fun person to work with. I always have good rapport with my patents and the short relationships that I build with them over the course of my time with them is one of my favorite parts of my job. So now, while my heart is broken into millions and millions of pieces, I still have to be at work and not only be able to function but take care of my patients. I have to put on a weird, new happy face so I can do my job, but really, the adjective happy shouldn’t even be associated with it. It’s a I’m-dying-inside-but-I-am-trying-to-function-and-please-be-gentle-because-I-am-seconds-away-from-a-panic-attack face. But my patients can’t know how fragile I am, my job is to keep them safe, so I smile. Though I cry several times a shift, I can’t just cry the whole time, so I smile. Though my normal is completely bizarre and horrible, it is my new normal, so I smile. But inside I am dying. Every second I am thinking about my daughter and my reality, which no one can see on the outside. Sylvia. Sylvia. Sylvia. My mind is with her 100% of my night and day. My patients I know don’t suspect a thing because my trying-not-to-die face is strong, I can somehow still make small talk, be personable, friendly, caring and provide great care. But the happy little nurse act that I stagger and limp through for 13ish hours three times a week is totally and completely fake. And it is overwhelmingly exhausting. Pretending is debilitating.

Some things that cause me to tear up or have a meltdown at work I can predict and brace myself for. Others, like when I had to doppler a patients foot and nearly hyper ventilated while searching for the heartbeat or getting compliments from unknowing friendly staff in the hospital about my post-baby body, are harder to predict and therefore are more core rattling than the anticipated events. I was pregnant for so long at work so being back it feels like I am still carrying Sylvia, because thats how I left. I found myself standing like I used to when I was pregnant and trying to rest my hands on my belly, which I haven’t done in a while. But at work, it feels familiar to do that. Even though I was gone for 9 weeks, it felt like I never left, which is also conflicting emotionally. I did leave; I left and my daughter died and then I came back. I am an entirely different person so it seems so unfair for it to feel like no time has passed, like the most horrific event of my life was a little blip in time and then it goes on. Which isn’t true, at all, but for some reason my return to work at times makes it feel like that.

I don’t know what the conclusion of this is, other than I am back at work and is both way worse than I thought but also because of co-workers, better than I thought. I work with really, really wonderful people who have been supportive, kind and loving since the moment they found out Sylvia had died. I feel fortunate that while I am at work away from my security blanket of Carlos I have people who are there to pick me up when I fall, cry with me, talk about Sylvia, make me laugh, make me feel safe and ease me to this weird new normal. I don’t have to be fake happy Teresa to them, they know I am crumbling, so its a relief because I can be a who I am now since Sylvia died, which is genuine and someone who cries and smiles and is every emotion in between, and thats okay with them.

Teresa MendozaComment