A Lesson in Caring for Self First


In nursing, our goal is to give the best care we know how to give to our patient.  We generally think of the well being of others before we think of ourselves.  On a recent flight, while listening to the preflight instruction I thought it was a good lesson for caring for self first.

I have flown frequently but never really paid much attention to the preflight instructions.  On this flight, I seemed to zero in on the instruction to put your mask on first, before helping others.  As a nurse, it might be instinctive to help the person next to us, especially if it is a child.

In an airplane emergency, the cabin pressure changes.  Oxygen is not available and so the oxygen masks deploy.  At this point in the emergency, you have two choices.  Take care of yourself and put your mask on first, or help the person next to you.

Why your mask first?

  • Panic, you and everyone around you as you realize this is an emergency.
  • The person next to you panics more.
  • That person is flailing and combative needing help
  • You blindly try to find your oxygen mask since you can’t see through smoke or debris
  • After a bit of a struggle, you get your mask on and breathe easier.
  • Now you can reach over to assist with other’s masks
  • They’re still in a panic and time is of the essence since they can’t hold their breath much longer.
  • You feel for their mask as things start to settle slightly
  • The person reaches out to you and you can now safely apply their oxygen mask.
  • You’re both now safely breathing well.

The reason why

You  decide to help the panicked person next to you first without your oxygen mask:

  • You are holding your breath from a lack of oxygen as you stumble to locate and apply their mask
  • The person is next to you is panicking and flailing about
  • As you struggle to help them you’re beginning to feel light headed
  • Immediately after a crash, there is a lot of debris
  • Visibility is poor with all the debris.
  • Not much time left, you feel your way trying to help them
  • Using the last bit of oxygen reserve you have…
  • You get their mask secured
  • Without a mask, you pass out

It is about self-preservation

As nurses, we work tirelessly and make sacrifices in order to be there for our patients.   The take-home message from thinking about this is the selfless actions of nurses.  It is in our DNA to find every way to care for everyone. Generally everyone but ourselves. We always go the extra mile to provide the best care and to be the best patient advocate.   In being the best nurse we tend to neglect ourselves.  In doing so we experience:

  • Physical exhaustion
  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional depletion

The time may come when we will battle all of this with an empty shell. You may find yourself suffering from compassion fatigue.  How can we take care of others, if we don’t t take care of ourselves?  This is a question I ask caregivers who take care of family members day in and day out.  I fail to follow my own advice.

As nurses remember to take care of each other but put your own mask on first.

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

Cheryl Roby, RN

Cheryl J. Roby is a Registered Nurse and retired US Army Reserve Nurse Major. She has more than 30 years of nursing experience and 26 years of military experience in the Army Nurse Corp. During her nursing career, she has traveled as part of her military experience visiting many of the 50 states and to South Korea. She was trained as an Army Medic during the Vietnam era and later as an OR tec. She went on to become a Licensed Practical Nurse and then completed her nursing training as a Registered Nurse. She was then commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserves. She appreciated the challenge of working in various specialties and expanding her clinical and professional skill sets. Her time in the Army Reserves and California National Guard gave her the opportunity to travel to most of the 50 states and work in other medical facilities. During her career, she had the opportunity to work in several specialties to include, OR, Occupational Health, Hospice, Sexual Assault Team, Forensic/ Correctional Nurse, Nurse Case Manager for developmental disabilities, Parish Nursing as well as a Nurse Entrepreneur.

More Posts You Might Enjoy


Join thousands of our loyal readers! 40,000+ subscribers already enjoy our premium stuff.