Recently, I decided to cut back on the number of days a week I work. I recognize I’m blessed to have the option to work as many or as few days as a contract RN and COVID tester. Not everyone has the financial ability to work less. I know it’s a privilege to have this flexibility. Because I’ve spent my entire adult life working a minimum of 40 hours per week, I felt obligated to work full-time as a nurse in this pandemic, even though I have a per diem contract position.
I found myself exhausted after my five-day-a-week shifts and having to continually re-arrange my family’s schedule. I am a COVID tester for a studio. Due to ever-changing production schedules, I don’t often know what time I am to start work until the night before, and I usually do not know what time the workday will end my day has already begun. My start times last week ranged from 4:30a to 5:30a. My days ended anywhere from 2-4 pm. On days I work, my husband has to juggle conference calls while coordinating preschool dropoffs. If I don’t get out early enough, he also has to squeeze in pickups during his workday.
Besides worrying about my breadwinner husband adjusting his life to accommodate my work schedule, I began to worry about my physical well-being from working so much and being exposed to hundreds of people a week. During the past two weeks, four different nurses I work with called off work due to some illness or another. Other people seemed tenser because they discovered more people in their work or personal life had come down with COVID.
Since Thanksgiving, I get tested for COVID every day I work. I appreciated the daily tests confirming I didn’t have COVID but realized my body was feeling worn out. Even though I’m naturally an extrovert, I didn’t understand how exhausting it can be to serve hundreds of diverse clients every week. My unpredictable work schedule was also adding to my daily stress. One day I was so tired after work, I think I fell asleep on my way home at a stoplight. I know driving drowsy is extremely dangerous – I didn’t realize how tired I was.
One of the nurses I worked with is a retired hospital nurse. She is a seasoned nurse who now works per diem for “fun” during her retirement. She shared that when she was younger, she always volunteered to work overtime. It resulted in her developing hypertension and needing medication. Since then, she has become an advocate for self-care and setting healthy boundaries. In addition to her, I’ve heard similar messages from bloggers I follow: Do not do things out of obligation or because it’s what you think others expect of you. Do what is best for yourself.
Despite my co-worker’s advice, I didn’t consider cutting back on the days I worked until a friend suggested it. During a phone call, she commented on how tired I sounded and heard my increased anxiety about people around me getting sick. After some thought, I requested fewer days from my boss this past Sunday. This week was the first week I didn’t work five days in a row! I felt guilty at first. However, as COVID cases and deaths rise here in Los Angeles, I feel more secure in my decision. I’ve also had more patience and energy for work and home since I’ve had more days to rest this week.
Nurses in hospitals are overwhelmed and have contacted me to let me know all their units are short-staffed. The patient loads are high and over ratio. New grads are getting pulled off orientation to help. As much as I feel like I’m struggling to get a hospital job right now, it seems like a blessing I don’t have one. I’m frustrated and relieved at the same time. I’m glad I get to work as a nurse and contribute somehow, but I’m also thankful that I’m not like my friends and family working in hospitals witnessing the COVID deaths and raging illness. They are frustrated when they see or hear about people not following public health orders to wear masks or avoid social gatherings because they suffer the consequences in a more profound way than the general public.
To all healthcare workers right now, particularly those in hospitals, I am praying for you and grateful for you. I hope you are protected and supported and able to do what you need for self-care. I hope this vaccine is effective and able to remove the burden of worrying about getting COVID or bringing it home to your loved ones. I am doing what I think is best to ensure my family or I do not add to your patient ratios. I’m trying to keep myself safe and healthy so that I may be part of the care team in a hospital someday soon! It took a while to be aware of my own needs, but I have cut back on the days I work for my well-being. For everyone reading this, please practice self-care and keep yourself safe!