Runnin’ On Empty

By: sonofabeach96

Sep 11 2015

Category: Uncategorized


I wonder, some days, if I’m burning myself out.  I was discussing having ingrained, to-the-core empathy with Melanie at AmusingMyselfMusings.  It’s not something I have to “try” to create in myself, it’s just a natural part of my core being.  Mel is similar, only worse, as she can seem to sense impending events, etc.  I don’t have ESP but I have the inate ability (or curse) to place myself in other people’s shoes.  I can, in my mind, transport myself into their situation and “feel” what they do.  It’s allowed me to be a sympathetic ear to my wife, kids, friends, and even strangers.  Like Mel and I were saying, people tend to be drawn to telling me their stories.  I listen, I hug, I may even cry with them.  Because I can feel it, their pain, sadness, hurt, or even happiness.

This is nothing new, as this has been the case with me from a young age.  So, to a degree, I’m accustomed to this level of mental weight lifting.  But I always had my own issues to wrangle with too, as everyone does.  And now that I’m an adult with a home to remodel, three kids (one with autism), a wife, aging parents (and I’m an only child, so their care is on me), and general “big-boy” stress, the issues and concerns I tote around are exponentially greater.  I’ve dealt with my stress, and the worry and concern I feel for others, for years.  And I’ve developed and grown my tool kit to the point that I can somewhat compartmentalize these things, and avoid driving myself nucking futs.

However, this newly developed angst about burning myself out is in relation to my work.  As an Occupational Therapist, I’m kind of on the frontline of healthcare.  I work in sub-acute rehab, acting as the go-between from hospital to home.  With insurance and Medicare regulations having changed over the years, we now see patients who, 10 years ago, would, and sometimes should, still be in the hospital.  They now come to us in a still acute level of need.  They are often still very ill, most dealing with pain and trach’s and IV’s and severe infections.  They are still far from healed from hip and knee replacements, open heart surgeries, strokes, brain injuries, or fractures.

As one could imagine, they are frightened, frustrated, worried, and don’t know how to deal with their current reality, much less thinking about how their life post-rehab will be.  I see these folks every day for an hour to an hour and a half.  We talk, clinically of course, but also personally.  I can feel their fear.  I can feel their frustrations about being away from home, sometimes for months.  I can see the pain in their eyes, sometimes, although necessary in the treatment process, at my hands.  I can feel their disdain for being “stuck” in my facility.  And when we talk, most seem to open up to me in raw honesty.  They spill to me about the dysfunction of their family dynamics, the loneliness, the incompatibility of their homes to facilitate a wheelchair or walker.  They ask me to solve problems that seem unsolvable.  They look to me for help, assurance, and answers.  They look to me for hope, compassion, and as someone who can advocate for them.  Their futures, in some cases, depend on the correct measures and actions that I provide them.  They need me, rely on me, and see me as the person who can make them whole again.

That’s a bit of pressure on me, and the other therapists.  I place even more pressure on myself, to make them whole again, to improve their function, and to provide them the necessary skills to return home safely.  And on top of that, there are the incessant intrusions and scrutiny of everything I do from outside entities.  The state inspectors, federal regulations, the patients’ family members, our corporate “suits”, all seemingly lurking and sniffing around looking for any hint of an error.  It seems the only interaction we have with these entities is when there is a problem, issue, or mistake to throw in our faces.  It’s one of those guilty-until-proven-innocent scenarios.  Aside from my immediate boss and the patients’ I treat, I never get any compliments, assurances that I’m doing a good job, or positive feedback.  And speaking of my patients, they are, as I mentioned before, sometimes still very ill.  That means seizures, another stroke, cardiac events, pulmonary embolus’, or any other possible catastrophic incidents are possible under my care.  I’ve had to perform CPR on several people over the years, and some didn’t make it.  I’ve had to testify in depositions after lawsuits have been filed by family members seeking blame and windfalls after the death of a loved one.  I’ve had to face the patient and their family and explain that there’s nothing more I can do to help them.  That long-term care may be their best option because of he level of care they’ll need is too much for them to handle.  It’s heartbreaking.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do this.  I can’t change my core, that never ending, relentless empathy I have for my patients.  I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to compartmentalize the work from my life.  It’s becoming harder and harder.  It’s difficult to clock out, then turn off my mind from these people who need me, who look to me for answers, answers I don’t always have.  I fight the feelings of guilt I have when I see them stuck in their beds, their wheelchairs, and this facility while I walk out, get in my car, and drive home to my family.  I love my job, I really do.  But he stress of it all is beginning to weigh on me.  Much of it is self-induced.  But it’s not something I can really control.  This empathetic nature is who I am.  And it’s getting fatiguing to carry this weight around.

“Running On Empty” by Jackson Brown

“Paranoia In B Flat Major” by The Avett Brothers

“Tear My Steel House Down” by Gillian Welch

“Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” by Cage The Elephant

“Days Like This” by Van Morrison

18 comments on “Runnin’ On Empty”

  1. It certainly isn’t a job for everyone, especially if you care. It must be a fine line you tread – not taking those emotions home all the time and not allowing them to affect your home life. Sorry SOB, I have no words of wisdom for you, just an ear and an emoticon ☺

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s the career I’ve chosen, and I love it. I enjoy being in the trenches. I feel that’s where I can make the biggest difference. So doing the “suit” thing isn’t me. But, dang, it just wears on me some days, today being one. I know loads of other people have stressful jobs. But the whole relying on me to heal them and get em back to the life they’d led before thing is heavy. And when I can’t make it better? Whew! It’s hard. Most days I can see it for what it is, and deal. But it gets to me every now and then, especially when I lose a patient. That sucks!

      Liked by 4 people

  2. I soooo know what you’re talking about. I avoid hospitals because of those reasons. To much “feeling clouds” in the air. You have to find rest places after such days. I call it outside time and inside time. Ypu need them both, but very often people think only outside time counts. But the outside time is exhausting if you don’t get enough inside time. Take care. The world needs you, but you need you too 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think what you are doing is an amazing thing. I heard a quote from Iyanla Vanzant once : “The cup runneth over, I have to keep my cup full. What’s is inside the cup is mine buy what ever comes out of it is for y’all.” That way you have more than enough to go around.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You are so awesome in what you are doing for so many. The health care system needs more people like you who really care. And I know you must bring so much comfort to people in very bad circumstances. Just remember all the ones you have been able to help and know you are a blessing to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sorry it’s weighing on you. It is a blessing and a curse to feel so much empathy. You are truly one of those angels on earth that helped my Mom and so many others. Please remember what a difference you make in the world. Why do you feel guilty? I’m sure you’re a wonderful OT but ur not Jesus or a miracle worker lol. Hugs n love to you my friend xo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I can’t really explain it, but as I’m leaving, walking past a couple of patients, I feel for them. They can’t go home, or don’t have a home to go home to. It’s that empathy thing I guess, not necessarily guilt.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. NO wonder your such a nice guy…your a true healer of the soul, your empathy which is a gift, and sometimes a curse, I agree you can be on a burn out as you can’t turn in off, sometimes you just need to take a big step back…its so hard to do and be the outsider of your profession looking in…its so easy to become part of your patients life, you are part of their life, you become their life line, the one who understands what they are facing and going through…I commend you for your profession, I was part of the medical field for 40 years, I was in medical record end off the business I love playing with papers…LOL but part of the big team for the clients who were getting over life changing events….and occupational therapist were always at the front of the line in helping with their transfer back to what is the norm for them after there event…whatever that was…. your a good man, and being able to feel empathy naturally does draw people to your flame of caring and natural love for the human need…not only people but I would bet animals love you too…..kudos to you friend…find away to take that step back….its hard, but I have known OT;s that like you have that special ” Je ne Quoi” and hit the burnout level….your a special person….take care of you first…now I am rambling…LOL kat


    • Thanks Kat, I appreciate the kind words. It’s a job that wears on me but I’m not sure I could be doing anything else. I’d miss it. And, yes, strays of any kind, human or otherwise, seem to seek me out. 😃


      • sweetie you are going to have to work on your personal boundries….must save yourself from the draining, and I agree you couldn’t do anything else, you would be lost, you have a true calling…perhaps your more magical than you think…????

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not sure about that. Some days I feel like I’m making a difference, others not so much. But I keep trying. I usually deal with it fairly well. The day before I wrote that post though, one of the ones I couldn’t fix passed away. Hit me a bit hard. I know I can’t help them all, but there are certain ones I really want to help. And it sucks when I can’t.


      • That’s why your wonderful….it was hard when we lost someone…no matter how hard everyone tried…its okay to let yourself feel bad…but sounds like you know you are making a difference….so many doctors leave all the education up to the OT’s, PT, and ST’s you guys are the biggest part of recovery….dr’s fix em you guys teach them and get them back to living…I had my favorites and when we lost them it washard….sometimes just being there is more help than you realize…..kudos to you my friend I believe that the ream your part of is one of the most challenging in the medical field….I know I couldn’t do …

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for that. You’re awesome! 😃

        Liked by 1 person

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