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Struggling With Watching My First Patient Die

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Hi everyone. 

I am reaching out for some guidance. I've been a homecare nurse for almost a decade and I absolutely love it. Up until now, I've always cared for people with a longer life expectancy, such as cerebral palsy patients. 

I've been with an ALS patient for a little over a year, and it's absolutely heartbreaking to see how much she has declined in that time. We have developed a friendship and it's getting really hard for me to cope with her approaching death. I am going above and beyond for her and her family and it helps me feel fullfilled, but I know that heart break is inevitable.. I guess I just need to hear from nurses who have been through it. I never overlap with any of her other nurses so I don't know them well enough to talk to them about the pain. 

What are your stories? How did you cope? How can I make things easier for her and her family?  

Thank you. 

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I can appreciate a question like this.   Every situation is different and I would hope that others chime in as well.   I'll try to add my 2 cents if you don't mind.

Coping with the death of your patient is not you can learn from the books.  So don't believe you can ever truly be prepared for it.  It is a process.  It is something that we learn as we go.    Whether you knew your patient for 5 minutes of 5 years, it can be hard......but it is part of the job.   As you get more experience throughout your years as a nurse, you become better at managing your emotions and grief.

It is common for any healthcare worker, or in this case, a nurse, try to rationalize away the sadness and suppress the feelings.  This would be wrong.  Remember to remain professional and composed after a patient dies.   Suppressing the feeling can be dangerous to your psyche.   When you are apart from the event or setting, talk to someone to release the emotions and grieve properly.   Being on this site is a beginning and I am sure as this site grows you will hear more and more stories of how blessed we are to have been a part of these individuals lives and care for them like we do.    

Don't scrutinize every moment you spend with the patient after they die.   You may wonder what you could have done better or differently, but don't.  Just know that you have made a difference already.    They just want to be listened to and taken care of.   Just the fact that you have come to this site and expressed these feelings lets me know that you have gone above and beyond for this patient and that you should be proud of being able to be in that position.    

You can make things easier for her by doing what you have been trained to do and simply being there to talk.   Just being in the presence of a patient like this is comfort within itself for them.  You can make things easier for her family by showing them that you care.   The family finds it very comforting just knowing the nurse cares.   That takes a lot of weight off of them as they come and go, knowing their loved one is in good hands.  

I hope this helps, but being that I'm fairly new myself, I have not been in a situation where I was close and the patient passed. 

I'm sure I'll have my day and when I do, I'm going to come back here and hope I could share and be comforted in knowing that we are all doing our best and making a difference.

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