The Many Words of Trauma

I remember hearing the word “trauma” for the first time about 2 years ago.

The way it was described was in an in-service for Trauma Informed Care. This was a concept I had never been exposed to, let alone familiar with in the healthcare setting. Fast-forward to today, and this is as much a part of my vocabulary as “a, and or the”.

When I first heard the word, my mind instantly shifted to a hospitals Emergency Department and I wondered why we were discussing it in context for Behavioral Health patients. The more I dug and read, the more I was intrigued. The more I was intrigued, the more I was engrossed with the impact of this word.

Trauma. What is it?

To simplify it, it is all of the negative stuff that we carry with us on a routine basis. Negative stuff includes your home life, your professional life, your personal life, and your interpersonal life.

It’s kind of like the luggage you take with you on vacation. Wherever you go, it goes with you.

Map Of The World, Compass, Luggage, Map

When you go on your trip, this luggage remains with you. It may be neatly packed together. Or, it may be truly bursting apart at the seams. Some people even make their luggage look all decorated and pretty, when in reality, it is barely held together by the decorations.

A New Outlook

This concept of “trauma” all of a sudden became a reality and it was as though a light were instantly turned on.

I finally had a name for some of the things I had previously experienced.

I remember when I first began working as an Emergency Department nurse(over a decade ago) that I had 3 days left of my orientation and I made the statement to my preceptor, “I haven’t had my first code or trauma yet.”

If looks could kill.

Needless to say, shortly after, EMS called in with an in-bound Trauma Level 2. (This case unfortunately turned into a cardiac arrest and Trauma Level 1 very soon after.)

For those in healthcare, you know you never mention the “Q” word or mention anything about this sort of stupidity. I was still a young, juvenile nurse who sought out challenges.

What soon ensued would be one of the most, if not the most, difficult and traumatizing cases of my career. Although, I would love to tell this story, it will have to wait until another post at another day…

4 Trauma Definitions

I want to briefly highlight 4 definitions of trauma in which you may or may not be familiar.

Adverse Event: Any event which causes discomfort or distress for an individual. This could be a cardiac arrest, trauma, maternal/fetal demise, medication error, documentation error, difficult conversation with a peer/coworker/leader/provider, job loss, financial hardship, rape, domestic violence, parental separation, etc.

Secondary Trauma: an acute stress reaction caused from the exposure of an adverse event. Symptoms may include poor or clouded thinking, increased heart rate/blood pressure/respirations, depression, anxiety, anger, rage, GI upset, shortness of breath, reliving the event, questioning your behaviors, imagining the patient as family, etc.

Compassion Fatigue: a chronic stress reaction caused from the exposure of adverse event(s) and unresolved secondary trauma. Symptoms are identical to secondary trauma except these have been manifested over a prolonged period of time. Symptoms are now compounded and the individual will likely have multiple sets of symptoms as the underlying problem has been unresolved. Relationships may be compromised with compassion fatigue and/or activities that were once enjoyable are no longer pleasurable.

Burnout: a chronic stress reaction from unresolved Compassion Fatigue. At this point, the individual is mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually exhausted. Routine activities are a nuisance. Relationships may be severely compromised or damaged. The individual may appear as though they are “just going through the motions” and may be viewed by others as “jaded”, “cynical”, or “a royal pain to be around.” These individuals may not see their behavior as wrong because they have buried their trauma for such a prolonged period of time and it has gone on unresolved.

Burnout is where many healthcare workers are RIGHT NOW!

Let’s look at a few pictures, and think about what this looks like.

  1. Secondary trauma

2. Compassion Fatigue

Campfire, Fire, Beach, Bonfire, Heat
With compassion fatigue, the fire is a little bigger, and more symptoms are experienced. More time and more resources are needed.

3. Burnout

Forest Fire, Forest, Climate Change
Lastly, burnout. Once the fire has been allowed to progress and is no longer controlled, we end up here. Sometimes everyone else around us can see the fire burning, except for the one being burned. Once we get to this phase, we need a significant number of resources, however, resources are costly. As a result, what often happens is throwing smaller, insignificant resources at the problem. These resources could include chocolate, pizza, candy, bottles of water, or other physical items. Physical items will never resolve an emotional or spiritual concern.
white lighthouse on top of gray concrete dock during daytime
And what we need is this amount of resources to address the burnout. However, true help often looks like the light on a lighthouse from many miles away. It feels almost non-existent and impossible to grasp.

Help Is Available

Our goal through Peer Check 360 is to bring awareness of struggle that healthcare professionals face on a continuous basis. However, bringing awareness of a problem without bringing a solution is boring at best. Please know that there are MANY organizations out there that want to help and provide support.

Below are several organizations that we would like to highlight as providing support.


Responder Strong:

First Responders First:

Association of Certified Biblical Counselors:

You Are Not Alone

Please know that what you may be experiencing is completely normal as the things we face in healthcare are often just the opposite. You do not have to internalize these thoughts, attitudes, emotions, etc. and carry all of this trauma (baggage) around with you. Learn from others who have been in your shoes and experienced what you are experiencing. We want to help and we are here for you.

Our desire at #PeerCheck360 is to demonstrate brotherly love to the healthcare community!

3 thoughts on “The Many Words of Trauma”

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