Giving Back

I saw this pop up on Facebook recently and every red light went off in my brain. Nooooo!

Always here, right? I’d like to see five of my friends post this message (Not share) to show you are always there if someone needs to talk. I think I know who will.

There are a lot of expats here doing wonderful things, supporting charities, giving locals skills so they can raise their standard of living, running spay/neuter clinics which have drastically decreased the stray animal population, helping orphans and the handicapped, shipping in donated medical equipment, cleaning up beaches and other areas…. I’m sure I know only a small fraction of what people are doing.

Thats really wonderful but unfortunately, not for me. I was a nurse for decades, often battling burnout and the stresses of the job. I dropped out twice to recover and regroup. I wanted to be a medical professional all my life. I wanted to be useful, to do something to help others, to make a positive impact in my little corner of the world. I feel I did that and I touched countless people, and hopefully made their journey a bit easier. I also learned a lot, especially the value of health and life itself and how quickly that can all change.

Nurses must walk a very fine line. You can’t connect with people without caring but if you care too much, you crumble under the weight of it all. I’ve been present at many births and many deaths, profound experiences that I’m grateful for. The hardest though, for me, is the suffering of the patient and the family, usually as they make slow progress towards death. You do what you can but you are basically helpless.

Buddhism helped me enormously, not that I’m a great Buddhist by any means but still, it helped me see life as a deep and peaceful thing with waves only on the top. Sometimes the waves knocked me down and my emotions got the better of me, but knowing it’s only surface disturbance helped. I was able to care about my patients better without letting their suffering rattle me as much. I learned that it’s ok to just let things be, to just be there even if you can’t alter the course of their path.

But, even with all that, by the time I retired I was totally drained dry. I haven’t even mentioned the deteriorating US health care system, the tons of documention required to get paid and prove we aren’t commiting fraud, and the constant push to do more with less. Along with the patients and their issues, I got to watch the increasing stress of my fellow nurses and coworkers as they struggled to provide adequate care and keep the office doors open.

I thought when I was away for a while, I’d start to regain my emotional energy but it’s been well over 5 years and it’s not happening. I feel guilty that I can’t contribute much. I can’t be one of those people who is always there when someone needs to talk. I think one of the hardest things for women and for nurses is learning to take care of ourselves first. We are always putting everyone else’s needs ahead of our own and sooner or later we pay a steep price for that. I value my friends and appreciate them in my life. I want to be there for people. I’m just limited in what I can do. I suppose this is something we all need to figure out. What level of involvement is healthy for us?

Ok, I’ve said my piece and I hope I wasn’t too obnoxious to my friend on Facebook 🤭


About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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11 Responses to Giving Back

  1. Ditto. Away from the bedside for 3 years now. I miss what could’ve been —- if there would have been the funds to pay for what was best for patient care. Instead, as you mention here Kris, stress, burn out, over worked and exhausted care providers doing the best they can without the support they need. So I’m happily learning Spanish and enjoying every day of retirement. Perhaps one day I’ll feel the draw to return.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know what I’m talking about, having walked that walk yourself. You think you would return someday? I don’t think I could. I decided to ket my license lapse and admit to myself that I just couldn’t go back. Much better to learn Spanish and enjoy retirement! Gracias amiga


  2. ponygroomusa says:

    I define what you lost as “emotional flexibility”. You still care. You still want to care. Like many nurses you burned out and re-lit. I think you said it well when you wrote: “You can’t connect with people without caring but if you care too much, you crumble under the weight of it all.” Being able to flex out – get distant enough so you avoid getting burned out – and flexing in – getting close enough so you can feel closely connected – that’s what I call emotional flexibility. I bet there is a better name for the phenomenon.

    I used to be more flexible. Some days it is very hard to move from the spot I am in to either a spot closer to someone, or a spot further away.

    It might be part of getting older, this wearing out of my emotional flexors.

    If so, I’d like to find an anti-aging balm I can use. It used to be much easier to flex, but now I creak and groan when I move to far too fast.


    • Emotional flexibility… I like how you put that and never looked at it quite that way. I thought of it as a balancing act but yours is better, a fluid approach, sometimes closer and sometimes farther depending on the situation. I think I also have lost a lot of flexibility and tend to stay in farther away mode much more than I used to.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Well said. I’m not a nurse but have worked in the health-care world for many years. Nurses are amazing creatures. I kiss your feet, for all that you done in your career. I don’t know what pop-up FB post you’re referring to, but I can say that the US has a long way to go to provide for those in the most need.
    My husband and I are making our first trip to Panama in August to see if it’s where we should retire. Your blog has been a delight and so informative. Thank you for your introduction to this beautiful country.


  4. Laureen says:

    You happened to choose a profession with a high burn out rate Amiga. Any of the Healing fields, but I think perhaps nursing the most of all. It is a lot of give, give, give, often understaffed, double shifts, and not enoug time to take care of life beyond work. Helping others is satisfying work, but in the field of nursing, it can come at a high price.
    I thoroughly enjoyed massage therapy for decades, both teaching and working with clients/patients in a medical setting. The only reason I did not get to the burn out stage is because I always made sure I got a minimum of one massage per week for myself, as well as regular acupuncture sessions, and other self care that helped me take care of me. Because I was self employed, I mostly got to make my own schedule. In nursing, that is not typically an option. I worked on many employees of the local hospital and clinics when i lived in Oregon, and there were so many stressed out, burned out, exhausted people from many departments, in different capacities, but mostly MDs and nurses. Some I saw almost weekly, as it was survival for these hard working folks.

    I applaud you Kris, for honoring what you can and can not do right now. It is time to take care of you, and please know that just writing your blog is helping others. You are part of the reason why Jan and I were drawn to Panama in the first place, by reading your blog. We loved our month there, and if it were not for family asking for our help in Mexico, we would be there instead. Everything happens for a reason, and one of those reasons is so we could be a vacation destination for our dear friends we made in Panama! When do you want to come? We have a couple of bicycles for you to pedal around the lake….


    • Thank you for caring for so many other health care professionals. We tend to put ourselves last which, as we know, is a bad idea. I had more control when I changed to home health and refused a full time position for most of the time, but there were still bills to pay and an amount of work needed to cover them.
      The blog is different. If it starts feeling like work I can back off, or run my mouth about any subject that interests me. There are no obligations. I enjoy writing and I’ve met a lot of great people because of it.
      Thanks! I know I need to visit you and your beautiful new country one of these days. Between the long trips back to see family and the band commitments, I haven’t felt like doing any additional traveling. Maybe after the new granddaughter arrives…. or maybe that will only inspire me to make more trips back to see them all. I haven’t forgotten your very kind invitation though.


  5. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    Nurses never get the thanks they deserve. We had a son go through chemo therapy at 15 for lymphoma for 2 years. Cured and well now but we never missed an opportunity to bring flowers or snacks to the nursing station for the times he was hospitalized. More recently, Nena’s older sister was in the hospital twice in one year, heart problems both times and we passed out signed gift cards to every person whose name appeared on the sign in board in her room. Nena made and delivered empanadas and tamales daily; we were doing a couple dozen a day for the month she spent on her last trip. (And once word got out, staff on the other floors were placing takeout orders with Nena! haha)
    Doctors earn the money, God heals the sick, but it is the nurses who are on call every hour of the day that do the work. They can not be thanked enough for their dedication and caring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bless you for being so kind to the nursing staff! The home made food was a special treat, I’m sure, above and beyond.
      It never was the patients though, or their families. I became a nurse to take care of them. But, when the system demands more and more for less and less, until you are stretched so thin you can’t give the quality of care people deserve, when you are drowned in paperwork and red tape, when money and productivity trump the human touch, when nurses are there to support and teach and ease the stress and we don’t have the time or energy to do that any more…. nah, I’m done.
      I remember one time the doctors decided to treat the nurses to a Christmas party, and take care of the patients while the nurses were gone. You never ever saw anyone so happy to see the nurses return as those doctors! LOL they got a heck of an education on what nurses do all day. I probably never would have happened if the mother of two of those doctors wasn’t our director of nursing.


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