Am I Experiencing Vicarious Trauma?

Authors: Jennifer Hughes, PhD, and Alisha Bowker, LCSW, UMC Trauma Recovery Clinic Team

GettyImages-660768852.jpg

At times it can feel nearly impossible to find the motivation to keep showing up to work, week after week, especially after working long hours or dealing with crises and looming deadlines. Working in the medical and helping fields, especially, we are often overwhelmed with horrific stories of violence, pain and trauma, which can dramatically alter the way in which we understand the world, ourselves and others.

The clinical term for this phenomena is Vicarious Trauma (VT).

GettyImages-860618272.jpg

What is Vicarious Trauma (VT)?

Vicarious Trauma can be defined as a change in a helper’s inner experiences after working with people who have experienced traumatic events. Trauma can be defined as a deeply or distressing event that one directly witnesses or hears about. This can include natural disasters, interpersonal violence, war, divorce, childhood abuse and so on.

GettyImages-661611342.jpg

Does Everyone Experience VT?

VT is a natural consequence of being an empathetic human, and being exposed to a population who has experienced trauma. Those often impacted by VT are social workers, case managers, doctors, nurses, first responders, etc. It is an inevitable hazard in these lines of work and, unfortunately, cannot be avoided, but definitely can be addressed and managed.

VT can also extend not only to helping professionals who work with this population, but also to the caregivers or loved ones of a survivor.

GettyImages-831590732.jpg

How Does VT Impact My Life?

Vicarious Trauma is an ongoing process that slowly builds over time the longer we are exposed to the stories of trauma survivors. It generally begins to impact us in three different realms:

  1. Identity: It begins to impact our identity, which changes the way we see and define ourselves.
  2. Worldview: It impacts our worldview by skewing the ways in which we understand others or understand how to interact with those around us.
  3. Spirituality: It can impact our spirituality, and replace feelings of hope with feelings of cynicism and despair.

GettyImages-672012338.jpg

VT Versus Burnout

Vicarious Trauma is different than burnout, as it truly only develops after being exposed to traumatic stories. Burnout is a state of chronic stress, particularly in a work environment, that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment and feelings of worthlessness.

While the symptoms are similar, burnout is generally not rooted in trauma exposure.

Signs and Symptoms of VT

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of VT fall under these 5 areas:

  1. Cognitive: Intrusive thoughts, sounds or images about the traumas an individual has been exposed to, difficulty concentrating, constantly thinking about survivors outside of work, becoming more cynical or negative in one’s thinking patterns.
  2. Physiological: Ulcers, headaches, chronic pain, stomach aches, sweating or heart racing when reminded of a trauma
  3. Spiritual: Lose hope, see others as bad or evil and lose sight of the good in humanity, difficulty trusting our own beliefs
  4. Behavioral: Hair trigger temper, isolating, using unhelpful coping to manage big feelings (drinking, drugging, gambling), need to control everything and everyone
  5. Emotional: Lose touch with one’s own self-worth, isolate from loved ones, feeling overwhelmed or emotionally restricted

GettyImages-687663122 (2).jpg

So now that we have the language to define the symptoms we are experiencing, what can we do about it?

Thankfully there is an answer for this and it can be broken down into three phases:

Anticipate and Protect, Address and Transform

  1. Anticipate and Protect: Arrange things ahead of time to anticipate the stress of your work and its impact on you.
    • Become aware of VT and start to look out for signs and symptoms. Intentionally plan for a healthy balance between your work life and personal life.
    • Find a support system, particularly amongst colleagues who share this language and can support you as needed.
  2. Address: How you take care of yourself in and out of work
    • Engage in Self-care: Attending to yourself physically, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically
    • Self-nurture: Engaging in activities or things that provide comfort, relaxation and play
    • Escape: Getting away (whether literally or mentally)
  3. Transform: Transform the negative aspects of this work into positive connection and meaning
    • Create Meaning: Find ways to hold onto your values and identify even in the face of trauma
    • Infuse current activities with new meaning: Mindfulness, Connection to others
    • Challenge negative beliefs: Actively challenge negative thoughts or cynicism/ Re-frame your thinking

While vicarious trauma is a very common and inevitable consequence to the work that we do, the exciting news is that we have the tools to fight back. This is an ongoing process that will continue to look different at different stages of our careers, so it is a process we must continuously be engaging with.

Both individually and collaboratively, begin to identify the signs of VT in your own life and use the template above to make a plan for how to begin addressing and counteracting these symptoms.

GettyImages-838169512.jpg

Remember, you are not alone with your vicarious trauma, and do not have to manage it alone either.  

What Do I Do? I Think I Have the Flu!

Author: Peter DeBlieux, MD, UMC Chief Medical Officer and Pulmonary Critical Care Physician

iStock-691579838.jpg

This year’s flu season as been an active and aggressive one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease has reached its peak, but many more people are expected to be infected with the flu before all is said and done.

So, what do you do if you have the flu?

Prevention

iStock-807443144.jpg

Get your vaccine – it’s the best defense against the flu.

It’s not too late to get the flu shot. The flu vaccine reduces your likelihood of getting the flu. However, if you do get the flu, the vaccine is still beneficial, as it reduces the likelihood of hospitalization and death as a result of the disease.

Flu virus are spread by contact with droplets that go airborne when an infected person sneezes or coughs. You can get the flu by inhaling the droplets or touching objects where the droplets have landed, which means…

iStock-467706864.jpg

Handwashing – You should wash your hands often with soap and water.

Scrub for at least 20 seconds, then dry.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

iStock-665866964.jpg

Is it a cold or flu?

Early on, it is difficult to distinguish the difference between a cold and influenza. According to the CDC, colds are usually milder, and people with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. The flu can result in a series of health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, hospitalizations and, in some cases, death.

Here’s how you can tell:

Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season.jpg

Symptoms

These can vary from person to person. Although the flu is a respiratory disease, it can affect your entire body, including the gastrointestinal system.

Common symptoms include:

  • Cough, often severe
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Fatigue for several weeks
  • Headache
  • High fever
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Severe aches and pains
  • Sneezing at times
  • Sometimes a sore throat
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

According to the CDC, you’re contagious a day before the symptoms start and 5 days after.

iStock-879005674.jpg

Call your doctor to see if an antiviral medication is appropriate for you, but keep in mind that medication such as Tamiflu is not helpful after two days of symptoms.

If you have the flu, don’t interact with people who are sick. Especially if you have cold symptoms or have fever greater than 100.3. Stay away from others until you have not had symptoms for 24 hours.

iStock-635787500.jpg
Avoid close contact with people who are sick, especially if you have cold symptoms or have fever greater than 100.3.

Stay away from others until you have not had symptoms for 24 hours.

If you’re sick:

  • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue – not your hands.
    • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • Wash your hands frequently.
    • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

Get smart this flu season, not sick!

 

Problematic Pancreatic: What to Know About Pancreatic Cancer

Author: Jennifer Gnerlich, MD, UMC Surgical Oncologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Surgery at LSU Health New Orleans

More people are being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer now than ever before. Currently, cancer of the pancreas accounts for 7 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. This year, an estimated 53,670 adults will be diagnosed with this disease, and more than 43,000 of them will die. (Source: American Cancer Society)

November kicks off Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month at UMCNO’s Cancer Center, so our staff is working to get the word out about this disease.

iStock-855267190.jpg

Here is what you should know:

  • Most people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between the ages of 55 years old and 85 years old.
  • Men and women are equally affected by pancreatic cancer.
  • The number one risk factor for pancreatic cancer is smoking and tobacco use.
    • Please call the American Lung Association’s Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA (586-4872) if you need help in quitting tobacco use and smoking, or phone us at UMC at (504) 702-5178. 
  • Individuals with BRCA mutations (associated with breast cancer) have an increased risk of pancreas cancer.

There is NO screening test for this disease. You need to be aware of the possible presenting symptoms of pancreatic cancer, which include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • New onset of pain in the upper abdomen/belly or back pain
  • Indigestion or upset stomach not relieved with Tums or Pepcid
  • Pale, smelly, floating, or light colored stools that may look oily in the toilet
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • New diagnosis of diabetes, especially in people over 50 years old
  • New diagnosis of clots in veins or arteries
  • Pancreatitis

Symtoms-Pancreatic-Cancer.jpg

If you have any of these symptoms, please see your primary care physician or contact the Cancer Center Monday through Friday at (504)702-3697 for an appointment.

iStock-840816162.jpg

Getting checked is important. Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of 8%, but with appropriate care that survival can be as high as 27%. Treatment will usually include a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Just as every person is unique, so is his/her pancreatic cancer. This is why every patient is discussed at a multi-disciplinary tumor board where a panel of experts in fields such as medicine, radiation, surgery, radiology, and pathology can discuss the case and determine the best treatment for that individual.

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or want additional information, please contact the UMCNO Cancer Center as soon as possible.

About Dr. Gnerlich

gnerlich.jennifer_Alexian.jpg

Dr. Gnerlich is a board-certified surgical oncologist specializing in upper gastrointestinal cancers in the pancreas, bile ducts, liver, stomach, esophagus and retroperitoneal sarcomas. A fun fact – While Dr. Gnerlich was completing her undergraduate degree, she was scouted to go into professional acting. She loves to run half-marathons, especially at Disney World. Dr. Gnerlich is excited to join the staff at UMC because of the “great team we have here.” She hopes to bring new procedures like HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy) to UMC for patients with certain types of cancer that have spread throughout the abdomen.

To make an appointment with Dr. Gnerlich or one of our cancer specialists, please contact (504)702-3697 or (504) 702-5700.