Monday, 23 May 2011

Agreeing to be different

I suppose this follows on quite nicely from my last post.

I've mentioned before that I volunteer for the Samaritans. I've been doing it for about 8 months now, I'm still classed as a 'new Samaritan', technically still in training, I have 5 shifts left before I get signed off and lose the 'new' to become a Samaritan :)
We have to commit to a certain amount of training hours a year, a 3 hour shift a week, and a 4.5 hour night shift a month. I think the commitments are different for individual branches. I have my last 'new Samaritans' training session next week, then I'll be attending the yearly refresher courses starting next year.
I don't have a problem with the commitments, but I have found that my lungs aren't particularly happy when it comes to night shifts. The early hours of the morning are when my lungs normally play up, so being on the phone talking to a potentially distressed or suicidal person whilst struggling to breathe is not ideal! So far that hasn't happened, I've been wheezy and coughing but not to the point where I'm struggling, and thankfully this hasn't happened when I've had the distressed callers, I've been lucky in that it's only happened when I've been talking to people who want some company in the middle of the night, so I don't feel quite so bad if I have to keep coughing and apologising!!
Also, I don't get home until 4am, and that's if I manage to leave on time. Obviously, if I'm in the middle of a call I can't go home until the call has come to an end. My lungs invariably play up on the 35 minute drive home, throughout the little sleep I get and into the next day.

I know that when/if I return to work as a nurse I'll be able to get out of doing night shifts if it becomes a problem. I thought about asking to be allowed off Samaritans night shifts but I decided against it; I don't really like to make myself different to other people, and I thought I'd manage unless it became a real issue.

The branch director phoned me the other day to ask if I'd like to be exempt from night shifts on health grounds. After umming and ahhing for a bit, I agreed. I guess when it comes down to it, it is a volunteer role, I'm happy to give my time and money (petrol costs), but I shouldn't let it have any impact on my health.

On one hand I feel guilty, like I've used my lungs to get out of something that majority of people don't like doing. Also, it's often the case that you get the most 'rewarding' and genuine calls during a night shift, we're more likely to get people calling who are in distress in the middle of the night rather than people phoning to hurl abuse down the phone or the sex callers. So I'm going to miss out on those calls.
On the other hand, I don't want to do night shifts anyway, my lungs always play up during/after a night shift, and it's stupid of me to do something that I don't have to which makes my lungs unhappy.

I did my last night shift on Saturday night, I didn't leave the branch until 4am so by the time I got home and into bed it was almost 5am. Then I hardly got any sleep through wheezing and coughing. A perfect example of why I'll be better off without doing night shifts! I feel like it takes days for me to recover afterwards.

So, the fact that I don't have to work night shifts as part of my Samaritans commitment makes me different to most of my Samaritan colleagues. I've decided it's the best thing for me and my health, but I still feel guilty about it. I guess this is part of me trying to accept that having brittle asthma does make me different to other people.
I'm trying to sell it to myself that if I accept little differences, then hopefully that will prevent bigger differences, little differences = not working nights, bigger differences = asthma ruling my life. If I accept that it's better for me not to work the night shifts, hopefully it will stop the instances of asthma symptoms/exacerbations caused or contributed to by working during those early hours and lack of sleep, and maybe even reduce potential hospital admissions.

But I still feel bad that I've been given special treatment.


  1. Although it's obviously been a very difficult decision to make, I think you have made the right decision. Health is a precious thing, and when it's precarious/unstable you need to be extra careful with it. Try not to feel guilty about not doing nights - you have good, solid reasons and it's not like you're just wanting to get out of doing them. Also remember that you're not going to be able to help anyone else if you're not well yourself.

  2. Thanks Becky :) I've spoke to some friends and they've got the same opinion as you, so I do feel slightly better about it after hearing that from you and others!