When I came across the whole ‘live in the moment’ philosophy, probably first in the 'Little Book of Buddhism ', I thought, well that must be lovely. You know, for artists and musicians and people like that. But you try 'staying present' when you have 20 lives in your hands, all off which need attention right now.
I gave it some thought over the next few years, but still considered it basically a wasted effort as far as NHS work was concerned.
Until a particularly manic shift on postnatal changed my thinking. I’m sure you’ve had similar days – narked consultants, teary Mums needing breastfeeding support, and a few ticking time bombs.
Then it happened.
The emergency buzzer went off, a nuclear war worthy alarm accompanied by blue flashing lights.
Someone’s Grandma had been visiting their new baby and had collapsed. My colleague and I were first on the scene.
As midwives, we get trained in adult resus but it doesn’t come up a lot – thankfully.
When we’re presented with adult resus, unlike with postpartum haemorrhage or shoulder dystocia, we're not the experts and we don't have much experience.
My colleague, an experienced mentor of mine, took charge*. We followed our training, started compressions, and after a minute or so, the lady opened her eyes. (She probably hadn’t had an arrest, but she definitely took her time in letting us know!) She was transferred to the cardiac ward and was discharged, in good health, a week later.
My colleague and I were both shaken up.
But for the rest of that shift, weirdly, my mind seemed to work better.
I was enjoying every task, even documentation. Each woman's story felt like the most important I'd ever heard. What was going on?
Part of it was elation in our actions and that the Grandma was ok.
But another reason was, during the emergency, I’d temporarily stopped my mind grinding through jobs I had, and scary outcomes that might or might not happen to women and babies.
I had one single focus. It was like a magic switch.
I started applying this ‘one thing at a time’ philosophy over the next few weeks to busy wards, and it worked wonders. When helping a Mum breastfeeding, I was truly with her, actively listening and offering support. When the buzzer went, or I was called away to do post-op care, I’d write the woman’s name on my list, and promise to come back as soon as possible. But I stayed slinky. Sure, I'd glance at the jobs on my handover sheet that needing doing, and often. But instead of obsessing about what could be happening behind every door, I’d prioritise one task at a time, and do my best with it.
In my last year of midwifery practice, everything started to come together for me. It was joyful. It was still stressful, and sometimes I lost my cool and let my mind wander, but overall I was present and midwifery was more fun that ever before.
What I’ve learnt in the last year is more important than all the advances I've made in my practice put together.
All you can do is one thing at a time.
They don’t teach you this at Uni or study days because they’re far too busy trying to give you all the life-saving and women centred skills you need. But this info is essential. It’s the key to unlocking and using all of your midwifery knowledge, especially in these uncertain and incredibly busy times.
It’ll also stop you going completely mental because you’re holding 20 jobs of equal importance in your head! For me that’s when the wheels start to come off.
Now I'd love to hear from you. I bet you've got some other great ways of stopping your mind reeling when you've got a high workload. Specifically, what's the most effective thing you do to help you prioritise and cope with a busy shift, without burning out?
*I should have expected it - every time I worked with this midwife, something hit the fan. We should have come with a consent to be looked after by us together form. (She deserves massive praise for how she acted that day, I told her so at the time, and I'll tell her now as well - thankyou 🙂 )