A divorce you don’t want

Jen’s been doing it hard. In order to let me get another 7 months’ work at the Labs in Bristol, she resigned from her beloved Intensive Care Unit back in the middle of 2006. She could only take 12 months leave without pay, and time was up. By the time we came back, a little less than a year later, that rule had changed to allow 3 years leave, but it was too late for Jen.

So when we came back, she started from scratch at the hospital, and had to face the night shifts—5 per month. She couldn’t do it. The ill-effects of nights had been steadily increasing over the years, and the break from the shifts had possibly made their effects worse. In any case, by the end of the third night, she was a mess, and so she resigned. Her boss was able to make temporary arrangements that involved Jen dropping to one “official” shift a week, with extra shifts offered to her to cover staffing shortages. In was known to be a temporary arrangement, and the current roster was to be her last.

She started to look for another job, and found that it was almost impossible for her to go to work in the unit. It’s like a divorce you don’t want, she told me one tearful night. There had been other tearful nights. Many times in the course of her years in the unit, she had dealt with tragedies that had moved her to a discreet tear behind the ventilators. This, however, was her own small tragedy: giving up the unit she loved, the team she loved, because the work she loved had exhausted her resources to cope with some inescapable aspects of it.

It wasn’t just the nights. There had been a rash of kids coming into the unit, and dying there. There is always a high mortality in intensive care, but it is the parents of young families and the teenagers that are hardest to cope with. I’m tired of burying children was a sentiment common to many of the women who had their own children.

So now she has a day job, which she starts the week after next, and she must resign from the ICU again. Last time, Jen told me very much later, to leave her ID behind and walk out the door, knowing that she was no longer a part of it, had broken her heart. Bring it to me, my love, and I will care for it, intensively.

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