Death and Dying in Nursing

This week, Sam addresses the greatest fear of many people—even nurses

Birth and death are natural parts of life. But while the birth of a child is joyous, death is difficult to deal with and causes grieving, anger, wondering what else could have been done, and sadness among many other emotions.

Nursing is a career where death is a part of not only life but work. Whether you work in a doctor’s office building, a hospital, or a nursing home, you will most likely be faced with a patient dying.

Working in a hospital myself, death is more common than most people would like to think. Nurses are trained to do CPR and sometimes it is very successful. You get a sense of pure joy when you see a patient who had no pulse revived because of you and your team. It is one of the most rewarding things in nursing and at the same time completely exhausting. The stress, fear, and adrenaline of saving a life are all sky high.

Many nurses are afraid of CPR or prefer to avoid it, but even if the patient would not pull through you are still able to say you gave it your best effort to bring that person back and chances are there is nothing more you could have done.

When you are faced with a death you cannot torture yourself and think what if this was done or what if I did that? I had a patient who was found unresponsive, and by the time we started CPR he had a vital organ rupture. There was absolutely nothing anyone could have done. Nurses cannot get in the mindset of blaming themselves.

Something new nurses may not think about is how the hardest part of a death is consoling the family afterwards. The family needs time with the patient to say their goodbyes, and every family is different. Sometimes they want the nurse to stay and sit with them. Other times they want to be completely alone. You learn to read their signals. Also, something to think about is that if there are multiple patients in one room you should move one of them out and make sure the other patient is okay. While you cannot tell them what happened because of privacy reasons, you should try to reaffirm them that everything is okay and make sure they are still taken care of as well.

In a field where patients are on hospice, death is inevitable. These nurses will sometimes become extremely close with the patient and family, but it is important to take care of yourself as well. A death puts a lot of emotional stress on a person and nurses in this field are very adapted to death and dealing with it, this field of nursing takes very special people. These nurses also learn how to separate their own emotions and show emotion without breaking down.

Most facilities also have a chaplain service or counselors that can be called to talk with the family or pray or whatever the families custom is. These services are also available to the nurses because it is a very difficult thing for many people to deal with. Do not feel like you are a bad nurse if you need to speak with someone or are emotional. Everyone deals with these situations in their own way and there is not right or wrong and do not feel bad if you need to step away and take a moment for yourself. That is okay!

Death is natural, and as nurses we must be prepared to face it. Have you had any experiences where a nurse was taking care of one of your loved ones? Was there something you would have liked to see handled differently? Have you been faced with any deaths in your career? How did you handle them? Do you have any questions in general about this? Comment below!

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