I worked the last couple days in the ICU, and I was absolutely exhausted when I finally had a day off. Exhausted like I didn't want to do anything, took a nap like I was in a coma, and then woke up more tired because I had stressed out nightmares while I was napping. So for the rest of the day, I felt badly about myself for being so "lazy and tired."
After some reflection though, I realized that while at work, I was involved in preparing a body for the morgue after a sudden and unexpected cardiac arrest and then an hours-long, unsuccessful resuscitation effort which left the night nurse in tears and desolation, and the man's poor fiance in shock at the bedside trying to come to terms with everything. It was sad and it was difficult emotionally, and it was also physically strenuous. The next day, I spent much time on the phone regarding my own patient's care, as well as took some verbal abuse from an angry patient, while assisting a coworker in the care of her dying patient, who suffered and suffered and would not let himself go. We did everything humanly and medically possible to ensure that this poor gentleman could die comfortably. And it was torture watching him struggle. I can't imagine what it was like to be his family, or him for that matter.
I decided that if any "normal" person had been involved in either of those two deaths, everyone in the world would have been sympathetic and said it was totally acceptable to be spent, and emotional, and exhausted. You should go lie down, we would all say, take care of yourself, it's been a rough couple of days. But, for ICU Nurses, that is just business as usual. I expect myself to "suck it up and deal with it." I beat myself up for being tired and tearful, and start in with "shoulding all over myself." I should get up and do housework, I should go to the gym, I should do laundry, I should snap out of it. Sharing your emotions with other nurses may get you a label of either "too soft" or "codependent."
Often, I joke to my coworkers that this is a "wierd job." I'm beginning to face the facts that this is beyond "wierd" and moving straight toward damaging and unhealthy.