By Marcy Phipps, RN, a regular contributor to this blog. Her essay, “The Love Song of Frank,” was published in the May (2012 issue) of AJN. She currently has an essay appearing in The Examined Life Journal.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Lately, as a long-time runner, I can’t help but draw parallels between working on a nursing research project and training for a distance race set far in the future. Especially in the middle of a long run, when frazzled edges smooth out and clarity settles over me, the similarities between the two are striking. Both require inspiration and a goal, fluid planning and accommodation for the unexpected, and patience.

I casually refer to the nursing research project I’m involved in as “The Depression Project.” It was borne of concern among the ICU nurses about the mental states of the trauma patients in our unit. As the bedside care providers, we often come to know our patients very well; we don’t just care for these people, we sincerely care, and so we’re troubled when we observe, time and again, trauma patients who seem to lose the motivation to engage in their recoveries. They become flat and despondent; they lose hope.

It’s clear to the nurses that while the physical injuries sustained present enormous challenges, the emotional toll is sometimes just as debilitating—yet underestimated. And so we devised a study to illustrate the correlation of depression and recovery.

It’s been a difficult process, rife with unanticipated road blocks that have required study modifications, with each modification requiring re-review by the Internal Review Board. Even now, deep into the project, I see problems, the most significant one being the impossibility to adequately control for an endless list of confounding variables. But despite the many challenges, what I’ve found most significant—and what keeps me from giving up on this project—is that not a single person has declined inclusion in our study.

No matter how devastating the injury or how dire the prognosis—and at a time when they’re most vulnerable—each person has been willing to answer our questions and be involved. Each has been willing to believe that their experiences can help the greater good and make a difference to someone else. And so, despite the confounding variables and obstacles, and whether or not this study ever yields scientifically significant results, the personal stories and hope displayed by the participants already feels powerful and inspiring to me.

I’ve spent countless hours working on The Depression Project in the past year. I’ve spent even more hours running, logging long miles on quiet wooded trails, training for races that I never plan to win. My mind wanders as I run, sorting and settling the issues that preoccupy me. Throughout the year, the two activities have somehow become linked, complementing each other in certain ways: after a long day at work, I sometimes run to relieve my own stress; and then, much of The Depression Project was devised while running.

And so I carry on with running and research both, ignoring an occasional doubt as to the end result of either. I hold on, instead, to the conviction that there may be more value in the processes than the end results, but that I’ll cross the finish lines . . . eventually.

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