It creeps up on you, doesn’t it? You swing from task to task – one minute examining a child with severe malaria, then settling a dispute between staff, then trying to check someone’s ability to convert a dose in milligrams to millilitres, then throwing the cat out of the Intensive Care Unit. You feel you are in control; perhaps you are vaguely aware that you have worked every day for the last 15 days, but you think to yourself that this was a one-off and wont happen again. But then finally on your rest day you get called in to the hospital to deal with a staffing issue, and all of a sudden you realise you are dreaming of malnourished children and waking up with work on your mind.
One of the curious features of psychological stress is how ridiculous it feels. You remind yourself that there are far more stressful situations than this, and perhaps you yourself have been in more stressful situations, so to be stressed now is inexplicable. What’s more, it reflects an unsustainable short-term outlook. The stress is linked to the fact that you have been overworking, and whilst it may be that lives are being saved as a result, you know full well that relaxing and pacing yourself is ultimately more effective in terms of impact on the patients, and in terms of ensuring your own quality of life. Stress feels ridiculous because you know you have been here before, and you should know better by now.
Well, after (a) feeling stressed and (b) criticising yourself for feeling stressed, you are only left with one more option – (c) to accept it, and to express it, and then to make an enormous cup of coffee and get on your Hero and cycle into the dusty Harmattan wind.
I might just stop off at the hospital en route to check everything’s alright…