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Saturday Morning Coffee; Child Killers & The People Who Have to Be Nice To Them

saturday morning coffeeLast night I had my sweetheart, his son, and my son together around the table to enjoy a meal together for Easter. With young adult children and their crazy schedules, family time is precious, and to have both families blend together during these holidays is a true joy.

Simple things like having dinner together every day, and making sure you say, “I love you”, before you head out the door are mandatory at my house. Maybe a little too obsessively-compulsively so.

You see, my career is death and dying. The fragile nature of life is not lost on me, and maybe I have some PTSD going on. Ok, I do have some of that going on,  but I think that’s normal under the circumstances.

Easter dinner with the kids was extra meaningful for me in ways that I’m sure people who don’t work around loss and trauma will never know. Nor should they.

This morning I sat down to my little window, with my coffee and kitty mentor, Mr. Willy Nelson. I cruised over to www.thestar.ca and read the article about Ontario’s Chief Pathologist, Dr. Micheal Pollanen.

Basically, the crux of the article was that Dr. Pollanen has been guilty of confirmation bias;

Among them was confirmation bias — reaching a conclusion and working backward to find evidence to support it, and professional credibility bias — being unwilling to change an opinion once stated.

 

Fine. I get it, and god forbid I was on the receiving end of a case where a professional reasoned that I was guilty and then tried to prove it. Basically, you’d be screwed.

But the point of my little blog here isn’t to crucify Dr. Pollanen. I worked with him. I didn’t really like him – let me be clear, that’s my personal opinion. He seemed to be book-smart-brilliant, and socially awkward. But most of the doctors down there fit that description.

At the Office of the Chief Coroner, one finds that ego-with-a-capital-E runs rampant, and the term Doctor warrants a god-like-untouchable-status to anyone who doesn’t have the same credentials. Humility has no place there. There are few exceptions.

The reality however is that those coroners are human too, and I would argue, because of their perceived status as stronger, more intelligent and wiser-than-the-average-bear, they are at higher risk for PTSD, burn-out and the other psychological monsters-that-go-bump-in-the-night. Sure, they have  access to support, but there is no system in place to monitor it. There is no formal support in place to insure that the mental health of  professionals subjected to the most brutal trauma imaginable is cared for.

During my training, a past Chief Coroner ended his lecture to my graduating class by telling us that if we ever felt that we needed counselling or help coping with trauma, that we should suck it up because that was our job. This was hands-down the worst advice I’ve received in my career.

I too have seen the trauma of a child’s lifeless body marked by abuse, accidental injuries or what appears to be a cold-blooded homicide. I’ve looked into the teary eyes of grieving siblings who are too young to have know what grief feels like.  I’ve done it many times, it’s part of my job.  Unless you’ve physically had to take part in the autopsy or preparation of the body, you do not have any idea what it’s like to be a professional in death care, so stop judging and proselytizing.

You don’t know the deeper level of concern that we bear when our child or spouse takes the car, or is running late. Working with trauma brings you face to face with the fickle nature of mortality every. single. moment. of. every. day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing Dr. Pollanen, I’m simply empathizing with him. You might want to try it sometime.

Ask yourself this; In a courtroom full of adults unwilling to admit that they either abused or neglected a child to the point of death, I wonder what the average reader of the morning paper would do? Part of me likes to think that they would rage and deliver a little eye-for-an-eye justice, the other part of me is a passive Buddhist.

So, as I sit here this morning, sipping my flavoured coffee, looking out at children in the courtyard giggling and scurrying during the annual Easter Egg hunt, I ask you to think of Dr. Pollanen as a human being who has dedicated his life to making our society a safer place.

 

 

 

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The Hardest People to Care For

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is that quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow'" ~Mary Anne Radmacher~
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is that quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow'”
~Mary Anne Radmacher~

Are you one of them? A professional caregiver; nurse, police officer, paramedic counselor, doctor, mortician, social worker., firefighter, soldier..???

If you fall anywhere in that professional-soup, you are likely one of the most difficult individuals to care for .

After a trying week and anxiety that has registered off the scale and into the stratosphere, I think I may finally be coming back to the land of the living.

I’ve had a couple of friends offer me the equivalent of a pat on the back and kick in the ass. Not really what I needed when dealing with trauma of the ugliest kind, and top of my own personal issues.

What I did not need was a ‘Lol’, or a, “Yah, but you’ve felt like that before”, or a, “You always land on your feet.”

What I needed turned out to be a  blessing that came out of the blue; another human being who knows what it’s like to see the things that I see, and yet maintain a professional demeanor and carry on with life when what you really want to do is vomit, curl up in a ball, and have someone rock you like a baby.

Caregivers and those of us who deal with human mortality on a daily basis are the hardest people to care for.  We can recognize patronizing bullshit a mile away, and smell apathy like a hound smells a panicked raccoon. We recognize personal authenticity and we know when someone could care less. We’re also too worn out to call you on your bullshit most of the time, so you’re safe.

We are the most difficult people to care for, because we know all the theory, and suck at self-care practice. We also are the most loyal friends. It was my best pal of over 25 years who listened, and said just the right things. She didn’t try to make it better or lessen the trauma. It was another pal who recognized my despair in a well-timed-once-a-year-email response who surprised me the most. Although we haven’t seen one another in over a decade, he too knows what it’s like to be woken by nightmares and have your day interrupted by unwelcome thoughts and images.

You already know to avoid your half-assed friends and lovers, but if you need reminding, just try reaching out to those folks when you really need support. They will teach you all you need to know about who is important and who is not.

If you are one of us, ‘the hardest people to care for’, I urge you to seek the support you need. It may be reaping the benefits of a decent EAP program or even as simple as a coffee with your truly good friends and the  colleagues who share the same joy and pain of working with the underbelly of what it means to be human.