In Palliative Care practice I often have emotionally loaded conversations. Tough talks about death and dying are commonplace. Emotions may flow in a raw state and tears may be involved. Sometimes you are confirming people’s greatest fears. They will not be recovering, they will become more unwell, and they will die. The emotional hit can be hard and the energy is felt by the recipient as well as the provider of the information.
Human emotions can be messy and the levels of distress can be high. When in the clinical moment I have to hold it all together, to stay calm as I guide them through the rough waters. I allow the emotions to flow, to be felt as they cannot be denied. Preparing someone for their imminent death can be some of the toughest work I do and some of the most important work I do. I don’t want anyone to have any surprises, they need to know what they are dealing with. The information will be shared in a kind and gentle fashion, but some ideas and concepts hurt when they are heard. The treatment of someone’s existential distress is beyond the effects of any of the medications I prescribe.
After conversations with high emotional stakes, I will call for a break. I will remove myself and my team from the patient room and will leave the inpatient unit itself. We walk upstairs and have a drink in the staff room. We remove ourselves from the fray, even if it is for five minutes. A micro-break is had. Our bodies and minds are taken away from the physical environment where heightened emotions were experienced. We nourish our bodies with some food and drink and take some time out. If possible, we also go out onto the deck to have some fresh air and sunshine.
Soon enough we will be back downstairs to deal with the next case. The short break allows us to be present for the next conversation with our next patient.