No Really. Put on your F#$%ing Oxygen Mask...FIRST.

Okay. Here’s the deal: you MUST put your oxygen mask on first. Yes, I'm talking to you.

I know that’s the title of this blog post but I’m guessing you’ve heard it before and haven’t actually followed through. So I thought I would say it again. And again: you MUST put your oxygen mask on first. Are you still reading? Then you may want more information about HOW to put on your oxygen mask. Read on.


That damned oxygen mask. Truthfully, I don’t have the answer for you. I don't really know how you can put your oxygen mask on. BUT what I do know is that YOU have the answer for you. And if you keep reading and trying things, eventually you will find the way. In the business of healthcare, you are in charge of caring for people’s lives if not actually saving them on a day to day basis. You deal with emotions, family members, and other sh*+. And by sh*+, I mean actual sh*+. You might call it “rewarding” but I’m pretty sure that’s also code for “exhausting.” When you are exhausted, emotionally, physically, mentally (we won’t even get into the paperwork issue), or spiritually, it begins to take its toll on you.


The toll can be so profound that you might not have a clue how to put on your oxygen mask.


Let’s try to break this down. When you’re on an airplane, receiving instructions about the oxygen mask, the recorded or scripted human being says,


"In the event the cabin loses pressure…”


If your workplace is the airplane cabin, what would it mean for it to lose pressure?

Think back on the last time you had a really crappy day (actually or figuratively). What did that look like? Did a patient swear at you? Did you get denied a vacation day because you were not caught up on your paperwork? Did someone’s life change because of an illness, injury, or…death? Did you comfort a mother whose child was sick? Did your patient with Alzheimer’s become combative?


"An oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you.”


Please do not wait for the oxygen mask to appear.

Here’s where this analogy starts to fall apart. If you’ve worked more than a week in healthcare, you will know that the proverbial oxygen mask does not automatically appear in front of you. You have to make your own oxygen mask. You will have to draw up the plans, source the materials (recycled plastic?), assemble it, and test it to make sure it works.


What does your oxygen mask look like?

Are you a runner? Maybe your oxygen mask looks like a gym bag. Do you do deep breathing or meditation to calm yourself? Maybe your oxygen mask looks like your car. Do you need something a little more aggressive? Maybe your oxygen mask looks like a membership at the local boxing gym. Do you need beauty to bring you back to a state of balance? Your oxygen mask may be some art supplies or a camera. Personally, I prefer to sing…my karaoke list includes “Magic Man” by Heart, “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin (this one is really good because I get to scream), and “Sin Wagon” by The Dixie Chicks. If I can’t make it to karaoke quickly enough, I can always turn up Aretha Franklin to full volume in the car.


Once you know what your oxygen mask looks like, you will have to make the decision to use it.

To reiterate: the running shoes, car keys, art supplies, or microphone will not automatically appear. You have to be the pilot here and know when it’s time to bring out the oxygen. At this point, you may want to bring in the flight crew (your co-workers) to help you. Sometimes we become so lightheaded and disoriented from lack of oxygen that we won’t know we need it. The buddy system can be crucial. If you asked me to make a list of all the things my best friend could do to take care of herself today, I would have no problem with the task. I’ve got her life totally figured out. I bet you can do that for your co-workers. You know that when Darlene starts to get hangry or when Duane starts to get snippy with his favorite patient, it might be time for them to take a break. Newsflash: they know that about you too. Ask for help.


"To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you.”


This seems like a very simple instruction. Pull the mask towards you.

Okay. No big deal. The only problem is that the plane is going down, you have been deprived of oxygen for a few minutes already so your brain isn’t working properly, and your child (or that really annoying stranger) is sitting next to you freaking out. That’s why they have to tell us these instructions every time we get on a plane. Not because it’s a difficult task in general, but because it’s a difficult task when we are going down. Here’s your very simple (not so simple) next step: Pick up the running shoes, set a timer for your daily car meditation, join a tipsy brush group, schedule a weekly date with your karaoke buddies. Pull the oxygen mask toward you:Take the first step.


"Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.”


Seriously?! Breathe normally??? WTF.

How is anyone supposed to breathe normally when the plane is going down? But, you have to try. You’re not going to be helpful to yourself or anyone else if you are hyperventilating. Now that you’ve got your running shoes on, all you have to do is take a few steps outside of your workplace. You don't have to win a marathon, just move.


"Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask.”


This is the “do not panic” instruction.

It may seem like the running shoes are not doing anything to help your very crappy day, but just keep going. Sit in that car and turn off your brain. SING!!! Do not talk yourself out of its effectiveness. TRUST that the oxygen is flowing and everything is going to be okay.


"Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.”


You are your own pilot.

Again, there will be no uniformed crew member here. You decide when it’s safe to move about the cabin. Be certain that you are honoring yourself with the truth of your situation. You may need to take your meditation session home for the rest of the day, the rest of the week, or to a new job altogether. Only you can know the answer to this. Just know that there is no FAA there with checks and balances. If you deceive yourself, your plane will go down eventually.


You cannot soar without oxygen and you definitely cannot save the person next to you.


If you need a little help finding your oxygen mask, check out the Burnout Brainstorm.

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