On Death and Passing: Compassion Burnout in Healers and Shamans
Article ID: 15907
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: November 10th. 2016
Times Viewed: 2,168
As a Veterinary Technician who has worked in Wildlife Medicine, I can tell you that people in the medical field are just as much soldiers as those who are over seas right now. This may offend many people, however; we wake up everyday and prepare to go into battle, we fight wars we cannot win, we see suffering and pain everyday, we take lives, and we suffer from compassion burnout, which is similar to PTSD. We, as healers, are on the front lines of war, we fight against suffering, we fight against pain, we fight to protect life. All soldiers fight to protect life: life of their country, life of their people, life of their families, life of their comrades, and their own life. If they are fighting for anything else, they fight for the wrong reason.
During my years in my Vet Tech Program, I heard from many people; “Does euthanasia ever get any easier? How can I make it easier to deal with?” Those were always the most offensive questions for me, personally, to hear. Taking a life should never be easy. I would never want it to be easy. When it becomes easy, compassion burnout sets in and you become numb to the reality of taking a life. You loose yourself and forget that you too are alive and have a responsibility to feel for your patients. You forget to love them and value them for the living beings that deserve respect and love. You forget to give them their dignity.
My guess as to how many lives an average soldier will take in battle... probably, at most 200 lives. I spent 6 weeks at a wildlife center and during that time we had maybe 100-200 patient intakes a day. We euthanized about 60% of our patient intakes for various reasons. I was the only Vet Tech, so I did most of the euthanizations. That's about 50-100 lives I would take every day... and that's a low estimate. A solider can shoot a person and not experience their moment of death, but Vets and Vet Techs must listen for it. We are the ones that pronounce them dead. We come face to face with their death and the reality that we have taken their lives. There does come a point where you do stop feeling for the individual cases. Where numbness sets in... and you just start going through the motions. That is the thing I most regret... that I wasn't able to feel for them in their time of need.
The best thing we as healers can do is give them love in their last moments. For most that might be the only love they have ever received. It is the best thing and sometimes the only thing you can do for your patients. And it is a precious gift. You will suffer for it, but if that suffering can ease the pain of your patients; then I will gladly suffer for them. And I have suffered for them. But that's all any of us want in life. Just to be loved. So if we stop giving our patients love, we truly rob them of the greatest gift we can give. We do them a disservice. I have suffered more during my period of compassion burnout than I have when I have felt for my patients.
I was once treating a bear cub that got caught in a fire. Like all bear cubs, it sensed the danger and climbed a tree... unfortunately, it was caught in the fire. I spent hours monitoring this bear cub, taking chest radiographs, bandaging the third degree burns it had suffered. When we removed the breathing tube, it was black on the end, indicating the amount of smoke inhalation that had occurred. We put him on oxygen and heavy painkillers and waited. In the moment of his death, I was thankful. Not because my patient was dying, but because he was without pain, without fear. He was there in my arms, warm and comfortable. He was not alone. Death can be the ultimate gift of mercy. Sometimes it is the only mercy we are given in life.
Burnout is a pain and ache in your very soul. It feels like a constant anxiety attack. You lose yourself to that numbness and stop feeling. That is the moment of true despair. When you start going through the motions, you lose part of yourself. You lose your humanity.
We should be thankful that we are given death. It is a time of rest and release. And we should be thankful that we can take life. To live, we must, be it plants or animals. Life springs from death, as trees spring from the site of a wildfire. To be a hunter is to take the death of your prey into yourself. To garden, we must sacrifice sprouts in order to give the ones we want room to grow. In these moments we must acknowledge death and our own mortality. Acknowledge that death is a part of us. However, we should love and respect our prey as well. It is through their death that we have the strength to live.
When we must take a life, we should sit with them in their final moments. Listen to them. Love them. Guide them into the decent of the goddess. In doing so, we heal them in ways that could not be done in any other way. And they will leave this world knowing that they are loved. For love is universal. It exists within the soul. Love and memory are perhaps the truest forms of ambrosia for any living being.
But with your love, you become a parent to the world. You will suffer for it, but the world needs parents. Humanity needs a source of love and compassion. The world will be better for it. For being a Priest/ess, nurse, or doctor is to suck the poison out of the world. Until we, ourselves, are intoxicated. And still we must find the strength to continue.
When the world brings us to our knees, when we are being suffocated by sorrow and drowning in despair, we must find the strength to stand. To rise to our feet and keep fighting. We must be pillars to our communities; sources of strength and hope. We must be lighthouses, sources of guidance and advice. We must stand against injustice and fight for equality of all people. For we too are a part of this world. All equally human; all equally alive. All people are our people and all life is ours to protect.
We must also keep in mind that grief is the consequence of love. If we didn't love, we wouldn't grieve. So I am thankful when I grieve, I'm grateful that I can still love so deeply, feel compassion, take part in my patience's lives and the lives of those around me.
When we take a stand against tyranny, inequality, and injustice, we serve the deities within and without us. For our Gods are not just transcendent, but immanent as well. They are beings of the Earth as well as beings of divinity.
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