Compassion Fatigue

April 2, 2010

This is a risky post. It will not win me any motherhood awards, and it will likely make a few people cringe. But, I try to speak the truth here, when I can own up to it, and to paint a realistic picture of what this journey is like for us and for the countless other families who endure the pain of caring for a sick child, or even a sick adult.

I like to call it “compassion fatigue.” It’s my term for when I have been sucked dry of all empathy and I can no longer see Tanner’s suffering as anything other than an annoyance to me. I’m there right now. It’s 10 pm and for the second night in a row, Tanner is still awake and I am bunking in her room. She is terrified thinking about a TV show she saw five minutes of the other day before we realized it was scary and changed it. She has come out of her room no less than 20 times since we put her in bed at 7:30. We had a day full of activity and I know she must be exhausted. And, I know with my brain that she must truly be too scared to care about consequences because she has opted to endure several of them in order to continue coming out of her room and to avoid sleep.

She also, I believe, has a urinary tract infection for which we will have to go to the doctor in the morning to have a urine sample analyzed, if we’re lucky. If we’re not lucky, we will end up in the ER sometime tonight. I’ve had a urinary tract infection and I know how it hurts, so in my brain, I know she is uncomfortable, although we have given her a healthy dose of oxycodone.

I also know in my brain that she didn’t mean to skin both knees today and have to be carried 3 blocks home, and that she didn’t mean to tucker out on the hike we took this morning and have to be piggy-backed a good ¼ mile or more back to the car. I know in my brain that she didn’t know that popcorn would burn her mouth when she asked me to make it after asking for and receiving two cartons of macaroni and cheese and three glasses of milk. She didn’t know we would have to throw it away and I would have to interrupt my dinner for the 10th time and get her goldfish instead.

In my brain, I know all these things and I know I should be sympathetic. But, unfortunately, your brain doles out knowledge but your soul doles out sympathy and understanding, and my soul is all shut down today. I have compassion fatigue… nothing left to give. All I can hear right now is “I want…,” “I need…,” “Get me…” “When will you…” The part of me that cares about the child behind these requests stopped functioning sometime around 1 pm today when Tanner interrupted the 15 minutes I tried to claim to myself eating lunch on my bed with the TV on. She needed miralax because she felt constipated. A realistic request, but so ill-timed.

I know she is only six years old and that she doesn’t understand when she’s asked for too much, but she has. I’m just filling requests like a begrudging robot at this point.

My husband wonders why I stay up so late after everyone is gone to bed. It’s not that I don’t need the sleep. I fall asleep sitting up almost every day while I’m putting Jake down for a nap. I stay up after everyone goes to bed because I know, if I am lucky, that there is a good chance that for hours, no one will ask me for anything. That I can do exactly what I want to do, uninterrupted. And, it’s worth whatever sleep I lose doing it, because it preserves my sanity and allows me to wake up the next morning and fill requests all day without feeling resentful about it. I have a feeling a lot of Mom’s do this.

But, I think that having a child with cancer adds a layer to Momdom that complicates things. That makes your need for a compassion recharge that much greater. And, I’m fresh out.

It’s an ugly thing to talk about and definitely not one of my finer moments, but it’s where I am. Tomorrow, after the visit to the pediatricians, and possibly the Vandy ER, after the Easter Egg hunt at church, I will run away. I will go to the movies with a girlfriend, or even just by myself. And my wonderful husband will recognize my need for this recharge and send me off with the reassurance that I should stay gone as long as I like.

And, when and if I do come back (lol), I will do more than just go through the motions. I’ll add a kiss and a hug to the bandaid and Neosporin routine. And, I will actually mean it.


6 thoughts on “Compassion Fatigue

  1. Beth-
    You have been a rock through this whole ordeal so it’s totally
    understandable that you would go thru some “compassion
    fatigue”. I applaud your honesty and will pray for this
    slump to pass quickly.Taking care of yourself is a priority
    that’s had to take a backseat of late, so enjoy your
    “me” time tomorrow with no guilt…you’ve more than earned

  2. Hey, Beth! I feel your pain! It gets to that point even without a sick child, and you are one MOM in a million . . no trillion. . .no MORE . .who will
    give all she has and more to keep it all together and KEEP ON in spite of the physical fatigue and mental loss! You are the greatest – I admire you more than I can tell you, and I pray for you daily. Thank you for being a wonderful wife and MOM!

  3. I appreciate your honesty! Most of us don’t have a clue what your road is like without your putting it out there – so bring it on! I think the reality is that even though you love your children deeply and madly, you only have so much emotional energy, and your reserves are already spent with the incessant worry, concern, treatments decisions, etc. Add to that a needy child (bless those steroids and meds), and I would be bowled over if you didn’t feel this way sometimes. I hope you did get a break today – you definitely deserve it – but whether you “deserve” it or not, sometimes you flat-out NEED it! Maybe the Easter Bunny can bring you a gift cert. for a massage – or a massive lock for your bedroom door. 😉

  4. My Mom always said God will not give us more than we can endure. You & your family have been through so much. Our prayers continue for all of you. God will give you the strength you need and will carry you on His shoulders when you are too tired to carry yourself. Take time for yourself, so you can continue to be that wonderful Mother to Tanner.

  5. Beth, you definitely deserve some “Me time”…..take advantage whenever you can and do not feel bad about your feelings….you are certainly going through much more than most of us can ever imagine….venting is part of your therapy…and we are here to listen. If I can help in any way, just call!!

  6. Beth….you never stop amazing me with your raw truth and “realness”. All Moms go through these feelings, yet rarely do they speak the unspeakable. Good for you. Good for you!

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