By anonymous (name supplied to the ICS)

Staff stress in the ICU. Listening is one of the prime skills of an intensivist and, with 25 years of critical care experience behind me, I think I’m pretty good at it.  My wife though wasn’t so sure and, at her suggestion, I made my first visit to my GP as an adult.

Like any good GP she thought there was more too it.  She was concerned I might be depressed and suggested I saw a therapist and offered to sign me off for 3 months.

The sessions with the therapist were very useful.  She asked me to enter a metaphorical house with each room representing the investments I made into different aspects of my life. I drifted into the physical room it was bare: no running shoes, no bike, and no swimming pool. It was a sad place as sport was such a big part of my life when I was young. The rooms representing family, spirituality and culture were equally bare.

When I came to the workroom it was overflowing; lists, ward rounds, conferences, and specialist society responsibilities.  My job had taken over and was pressurizing the rest of my life.

I left the house and closed the door.

It was no surprise when she suggested I didn’t value myself and cared too much about other peoples’ opinions. I needed to invest in myself to be able to flourish.  I put more activity with my wife and kids in the family room, furnished the physical room by walking more.  I’m still working on the spiritual room.

I know that my story is far from unique in the critical care community. To address the emotional needs of our patients and relatives we need to ensure our own lives are balanced.

As my therapist said “you can’t keep running on empty forever” and, better still, I can now hear my wife.

Editorial note: Stress is more prevalent among health professionals compared to the general population. For example, 28 % of doctors experience psychological distress compared to 18 % among the general population. See this list of services if you need advice.

At this year’s State of the Art session ‘Who cares for the carers? Staff welfare and morale in the ICU’ we invite critical care staff to help us unravel the reason behind the crucial 10 % gap from a critical care perspective. Share your experience on Twitter by using #10percentgap #icssoa2016.

One thought on “Running on empty

  1. As an ST6, I quit my ICM NTN because I could not see myself in the shoes of the Consultants I was working under. The amount of stress and the responsibility they shoulder is immense, and I didn’t think I could withstand that kind of burden.

    I don’t think there’s enough occupational support available to Critical Care physicians. We love to emulate the aviation industry in so much of what we do, but one thing we could definitely learn from them is the psychological support that pilots receive, and the downtime they get to actually absorb the constant learning they have to do whilst on the job. When people are constantly being bombarded by clinical demands with inadequate time to reflect and grow, you will get situations like what the above author faced.

    I agree with the anonymous author’s assertion that there’re many who “keep running on empty”.


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