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CU Nursing student Chris Griffin

Compassion Without Fatigue

How to survive and thrive in life and nursing - lessons learned while earning a PhD.

minute read

Written by Dana Brandorff on December 1, 2020

For Chris Griffin that is the question she posed during her PhD thesis presentation. A nurse at Children’s Colorado Hospital for the past 19 years, Griffin has had her share of intense heartache and joy. “We live these extremes every day. They aren’t fictional stories. They become a part of our consciousness and affect who we are,” said Griffin.

Often facing anger or fear from patients and their families, “It can be completely draining. You build walls of self-protection and self-preservation. Coping with the constant intensity of what you do.”

When treating a patient:

  • Pause to get balanced/set before you provide care
  • Be present
  • Don’t forget to find peace afterward
  • Give permission to process and ask yourself what did you contribute?

Being There During the Best and Worst Times

Griffin has been there at the best and worst parts of people’s lives, including when their children are dying. In one case, a mother handed her son to Griffin to be with him during his last moments. “She told me she couldn’t handle it. She pleaded with me not to leave him alone. It was heart-wrenching, but I had to be there for both of them.”

Griffin thought she was “managing the extremes well.” Years later, her sons told her that their father would forewarn them when she had a bad day. “The boys had their own secret code if it was a good night or a bad one. If I had lost a patient, they’d be on their best behavior.” According to Griffin, “Everyday life has its ups and downs.” For the Griffins, it’s a little more complicated. In addition to their sons, the couple adopted two daughters and foster parented more than 30 children! “We have an agreement – if we can make a difference for a kiddo for a short time, then we should do it,” she said. “I believe I have a responsibility to pay back all the privilege and happiness I have had in my life.”

Discovering Herself, Finding Balance, and Not Taking on the World’s Suffering

At some point, something had to give. While on a retreat with Dean Emerita, Living Legend, and Caring Science theorist Jean Watson, Griffin got some much-needed perspective. Watson said, “What you’re doing isn’t wrong . But where you missed the boat is that you thought you could continue without taking care of yourself.” Watson inspired her to go back to school to get a PhD. “She looked at me and said it’s time. I applied the next week. When Jean Watson says it, you do it!”

During Griffin’s academic journey to graduating December 12, 2020, she asked herself, “‘How can we not just survive but thrive in what we do? And I always came back to Caring Science,” she said. The core truths are be authentic; how you show up with another human matters; and inviting the right consciousness and energy gives you the capacity to be present. “Caring Science reminds us that compassion is a choice, and it protects you. The key is finding balance and not taking on the world’s suffering,” said Griffin.

Topics: Students