To Break Or Not To Break


A&E gets busy. That’s not news. I expected A&E to be jam-packed, especially during winter. It’s cold, it’s slippery, people are more likely to get ill, which means more patients coming in.

During our induction, we were told we got an hour for our breaks because of how long the shifts are. The advice was to split the breaks and ideally have two 30 minute breaks instead.

Obviously, breaks are important, but I often find that there’s this catch 22. When it’s not busy, it’s much easier to take breaks but I don’t really need one. With less patients to see, I’m sat down more, I remember to water myself and have bathroom breaks. When it’s busy though, I’m running around a lot, trying to do several things at once. I get tired more quickly and that’s when it’s harder to take breaks, but that’s when I need them the most.

When it gets busy, we pick up the pace to make sure patients are seen. That’s when our sacrificial tendencies kick in and we drive ourselves to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Sometimes that means doing away with breaks (water/food) altogether.

It’s unhealthy but subconsciously it’s encouraged and respected. I feel like it’s either the culture amongst health professionals that we are taught or pick up from watching others do the same, or it’s the innate nature of the type of person who comes into this line of work anyway. And though it’s admirable, I wonder whether it’s actually more harmful in the sense that a) we’re more exploitable as a work force and b) more mistakes are made.

When it’s busy, my train of thought is more difficult to follow, I’ve touched on this before here. I’m more distractible, I end up doing the same tasks again and again, running around, chasing my own tail, racing everywhere but not getting much done. So, for me, taking a break is necessary.

Lately though, I feel like I’m extra conscious about taking my breaks. One passive aggressive comment in passing is making me rethink my stance on taking time out. I don’t want to feel guilty when I go on a break when there’s still a lot of people to be seen. But I know that I don’t have it in me to work myself to the ground. Especially in a department like A&E when a quiet shift is the exception.

Sometimes I feel like I’m barely keeping it together. And those small moments that I can take to give myself a breather are really necessary. So, I’ll continue to take my breaks, because I can’t do my best for patients or myself otherwise.

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