Working through Fatigue: Nurse Uses Poetry to Address Her Darker Pain

Credit: Chris Nickels for NPR

Recently, I wrote about Emotional Fatigue, so this story on NPR caught my eye. Meredith Rizzo writes about a trauma nurse whose poem, “Affliction,” helped her work through compassion fatigue, that sense of burnout that many in the medical field regularly feel. That nurse, Kristin Laurel, says that her poetry helps her to acknowledge her patient’s life while letting go of her grief. The opening lines of this poem are compelling:

It is the night shift, and most of Minneapolis does not know

that tonight a drunk man rolled onto the broken ice

and fell through the Mississippi.

The poem continues with what appears to be a single night of a nurse’s life, one filled with real people at their worst. The pressure must be overwhelming, and Laurel describes that affliction through this simile: “Even the snowflakes fall like ash.” That is juxtaposed with her own life, and her need to do something so mundane as clean her house.

For those of us who are fatigued by the emotional and compassionate demands of our work, this poem is a beautiful representation of the power of overcoming our fatigue and finding balance. Laurel’s poem is just one of NPR’s series about medicine in poetry. Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine is an outlet for medical professionals-turned-poets. Perhaps we academics need an outlet of our own. To read the full poem, click here and scroll down.