Post Mortem Care

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    I am a fairly new CNA, I have been working in the hospital for about 6 months now, and last night i had my first experience with post-mortem care. It was terrible. The actual passing was fine, almost beautiful actually. Her whole family was there, and it was definitely her time to go. It was peaceful. (Aside from the fact that I had NEVER seen a dead person before. I haven't even been to an open casket.)
    The part I really had trouble with was the post mortem care. I had taken care of this patient for weeks, and i had put her in a bag, wheel her down to the morgue and into a giant freezer. It was borderline traumatic for me. I cried the whole time we were cleaning her up, and I talked to her like she was still there. Is that insane?
    I am also starting to worry about my future in healthcare. This is part of the job, and I clearly cannot handle it. It has been about 24 hours and I haven't slept much; I had nightmares, and I'm still crying on and off. I don't know if I can ever do that again. I guess I just want to know if my reaction was normal, and if it will get any easier? I am in nursing school and I am afraid that I can't do this job.
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  4. 4 Comments so far...

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    I do believe it gets easier in time. I experienced my first death (as a CNA) back in January. I had taken care of this lady for months and was able to get her continent by working with her, I gave her her first shower in maybe 2 months if I remember correctly. The day before she passed she said she "couldn't wait to be put out of her misery" and "it wouldn't be long" she was "going home." Therefore, I knew she was ready to go and that made it better on myself. While I was cleaning her, etc. I kept in mind that she is glad she "went home" and that people dying is normal. Hang in there, I do believe it gets better with time and experience.
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    Post mortem care can be difficult, but working in healthcare it is also something that you will have to deal with. I do think that it gets easier with time, but I wouldn't say that it ever truly gets 'easy' - at least for me. I always think that this person I am caring for just passed away and their family will never have the opportunity to hug them or speak to them again...one od the nurses I work with feels the same way and I have often seen her break down in tears after a resident has passed. As far as talking to your patient like she was still there, I would say that is fairly normal - the patient may be dead, but she is still a patient that you cared for and got to know, talking to her can help with closure and help to make post mortem cares a bit easier. Having nightmares about it, though, is something that you should talk with someone about. Does your hospital offer counselling to employees so they can debrief after something that affects them like this? or (if you are religious) do you have a pastor that you can speak to regarding this? Don't be ashamed or embaressed (sp?) to talk to someone - you are not the first to feel this way and you will not be the last, but to not talk to someone and just keep this bottled up will only make it worse. Working in a hospital (or in healthcare in general, even just in life) you will encounter this again, so please, take advantage of the resources available to you and speak to someone about this situation!
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    I've had to do it so many times that it made it doable at least. I didn't know them very well, though. Hugs, it will get better. A lot of these people death can become a mercy, so you start to see it that way. I know when my grandma who I was very close to passed, and seeing her miserable for so long being sick, my CNA experience made it easier to accept. I cried of course but was at the same time happy for her. She had been saying it too, she was ready.
    havehope likes this.
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    Theres no reason you would need to quit healthcare altogether, as there are plenty of healthcare settings and jobs where post mortem care would not be in the job description at all, or be so infrequent that you could probably find someone else to do it in your place in the rare occasion it came up.

    The other alternative is that you simply learn to face the reality of death. I think most people are exposed to death at some point during their childhood. The situation can be very traumatic when its experienced for the first time. Few people who had a beloved grandma or close relative die in childhood and saw them in their casket can forget the experience, but once you get over that initial shock it becomes less of a big deal. In your case you are experiencing death for the first time as a healthcare professional instead of as a kid. You either have to find a way to cope, either through religion or therapy or simple exposure, or you have to find a way to avoid it. I think human beings tend to be psychologically resillient and after the shock of this first experience wears off, it wont be nearly as difficult or traumatic the next time.

    I think the fact you are disturbed by someone elses death seems a sign you would make a good CNA or nurse. Its the ones who arent affected by it at ALL that worry me. I'll never forget an EMT student who I did clinicals with in the ER during a shift where we had 3 cardiac arrests come in, 2 that died. The Doc would no sooner call it and pronounce the patient dead than this student was back giggling and joking and flirting with ER staff with the body laying right there. I dont know what kind of an EMT she turned out to be, but I hope to god she never works as a nurse.
    i_love_patient_care likes this.


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