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A Beast in the Night


Has 2 years experience.

My last two work days at the hospital have really been phenomenal....

I am chalking it up to my latest and greatest depression. Since I've been out of my twelve-week orientation on the oncology unit, I've had two patients expire, and two rapid responses. On my very first day as a brand new nurse two months ago, I was assigned a DNR Lupus patient. 19YO female. Latina. The entire family was Spanish-speaking, save for one brother.

As students of ethical and legal obligation, nurses are taught that a translator is paramount in these types of events, and that family members should never be called upon to do this work. In the hospital where I work, which is a state-of-the-art facility erected less than five years ago, we have translator telephones - one for each unit. On the day my Latina patient died, there was another Spanish-speaking family down the hall, using the designated translator-telephone. On that day, my first day on the unit as a baby nurse, I had to ask the unaskable. The boy's anguish was palpable.

My experience with death on the unit went downhill from there. A family's loss is harder to withstand than the loss of a patient, I will admit. Any nurse will tell you that. Acute grief is a beast in the night.

For a while there, I held on. Weeks passed. Then a whole month was behind me. Two months smooth sailing. I was running myself ragged trying to keep afloat with the big dogs, no doubt, but I was handling my business, and doing a fine job of it. I even received a "Caught in the Act" award, a nod to my service excellence by my colleagues. It was the silver lining I needed; the golden fork would have to stay in the cabinet because this girl was not done...

...that same day, later on, one of my patients almost coded. He was desat'ing, turning blue, and I had to call the rapid response team. He was a terminally ill male in his late 70s, and his family decided the best thing for them would be to FULL CODE him.

I think, for a nanosecond, not even a blink of time or space, panic slipped in through a tiny crack in my skin somewhere. In the same influx, I lost myself to make space for it; my soul slipped out just as urgently.

I truly have not been the same since. I cried for the entire day after that, as I had the day off, and when I went in for my shift the next day, I had to call RR on another gentleman, who subsequently went in for emergency surgery and was coded shortly after that.... and this has been my whole life for the past couple of weeks: those two men.

My wife resorted to supplying me with one of the most basic of human joys - coloring books. But not just any coloring books, adult coloring books. There are no cartoons in these bad girls. Just awesome art, eclectic designs, mindless space filling. With colors. Lots and lots of colors. So, I colored.

I filled in the shapes, pressing firmly onto the page, with my crayola twisty pencils. I dove boldly into the graphics and passed minutes and hours and days swimming in the lines.

Meanwhile, each misstep at work has prepared me for the next, and I have really started to feel like I've been resurfacing. As of the top of the week, I have left work collected, on time, and ready to tackle the next day with a little bit more backbone. This is the evolution of experience, I suppose. These events are so few, however, compared to all the years of experiences I will face; so fleeting compared to all the generations of lives affected by one person in a hospital bed; so small and yet, so profound...

... and I still do not feel any more ready for the next poor prognosis, or the next animal. But, I will take a couple of uncomplicated days and call them phenomenal.


Specializes in LTC.

If your place has EAP services, you may wish to consult with them. Oncology is NOT always easy, even for the seasoned & experienced.


Has 2 years experience.

Thank you, amo... They do have EAP. :yes:

They've been resourceful. Oncology is tough and sad, but I will be rotating off this unit in about another month. It takes a very special nurse to work with cancer patients. Kudos to all the oncology nurses out there.


Specializes in Emergency Nursing.

I totally and completely understand how you're feeling. I don't work oncology. I work ER but completely understand what you're going through.

A few weeks ago we were getting our butts handed to us in the ER. We had been getting large volumes of truly sick patients. It's like it comes in waves. There was one day in particular where we got hit really hard. I was working 7a-7p. We were already short staffed. Didn't have a float nurse. 0830 a trauma alert was called. So I was caught up with my patients and went to help. 60 something y/o female. Literally burned to a crisp. House fire. I had never seen anything like that. It's hard to imagine the pain that the poor lady was in. She was alert and oriented upon arrival. Can you even imagine?

Then on top of that THE SAME day, at 1830 (30 minutes before my shift was over) we got another trauma called. 5 y/o female. Pedestrian vs. Automobile. HR of 30 upon arrival. Attempted ventilation to raise HR. No success. Started compressions. We weren't able to save her. I almost lost it after that day. And had to come back and work the next day. I was able to talk with a few other coworkers and I'm okay now but I can totally see how nurses can develop PTSD.

So just keep doing what you're doing. I'm also a "newish" nurse. Graduated May '14. If you ever are feeling like this and would like to PM I'm more than happy to listen. I try to talk to my husband about it but it's hard for him to understand the depth of despair after not resuscitating someone because he doesn't have the "Savior complex" that I do. Lol

Just know that our job is important and that even though we don't hear it very often we are appreciated. Keep up the good work!


Has 2 years experience.

Thank you for the friendly words, Nursey...