Doctor’s offices and hospitals can be cold, sterile and uncomfortable places. Doctors and nurses can also come across cold and uncaring. Would you be surprised to know that the coldness may be from caring too much? It may be surprising to learn that doctors and nurses may grieve the death of a patient.
Sometimes a doctor or nurses bedside manner is part of a personality that does not mesh well with their career of patient care. Sometimes it is a method to protect themselves because losing patients to death is common in many fields. It has been over six years since I have worked as a nurse. Despite the years away, there are patient names, faces and families that I have not forgotten over the years. Work in the medical field can be rewarding and it can be full of grief.
My First Death
The first time I experienced death as a nurse was during my first few months as a nurse. I worked the nightshift at the time of the patient’s death. I had the patient three nights in a row and the patient passed on my third night. Sadly, the patient was very sick and the decision was made before my third shift to no longer pursue a medical cure. The death was more than 12 years ago, but it still brings me to tears thinking about the songs that were sung, the stories that were told, the whispers of love and the gut-wrenching sobbing that occurred throughout the night. Thankfully, an experienced nurse guided me, the family and patient through the sad night.
Not every patient dies in the hospital. Many patients receive terminal news and decide to go home or to a hospice unit to die naturally surrounded by family. One of my all-time favorite patients died when I was nine months pregnant with my first child. The day he was discharged from the hospital to home, we knew he would never return. I was one of the many healthcare workers that made our goodbyes throughout the day. He hugged me through my tears and told me he would tell my daughter what a great mom she was about to meet. I was a basket case telling him goodbye.
Sometimes deaths were a surprise. Working in an adult hospital, we were more accustomed to deaths occurring in elderly adults. The assumption was often made that anyone young would pull through and survive. During several hospital stays over a period of months, we all got to know a lovely young woman and her family. Sadly, she was very sick, but she fought her disease with everything she had. One day, her body failed to comply with her will to live, and her heart stopped. She was in the unit in which I served as a charge nurse for the day. Despite hours of emergent intervention, she died later that day. Everyone in our unit was wrecked, and we had hours of our shift to complete and other patients to manage.
Doctors, therapists and nurses were deeply saddened by her death. Two weeks later, the hospital held a discussion panel with all the staff to help the staff process our grief. The panel was led by myself, her Nurse Practioner and one of her physicians. Physicians, nurses and therapists attended from all over the hospital to discuss feelings of grief when patients lives cannot be saved.
Working as a nurse was certainly the most fulfilling jobs I ever had. It was also the most difficult job at times.