Coping with the Death of a Fellow Nurse

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Nurses Losing "One Of Their Own"

Last night at work, I had a fellow coworker and fellow nurse seek care in our ED. She’s relatively young and the night ended with an admission and what’s going to be, more than likely, a terminal diagnosis. I won’t get into any details because she is a private person and I want to respect that.
She ended up relaying the info to me herself because the doctor had updated her prior to me reading the CT. I felt like I had been smacked in the face. I kept it together at the bedside and then cried in the bathroom immediately after. The only thing I wanted was for my shift to be over and go cry in my car. And now I sit here tonight with the entire scenario creeping into my head. I knew her husband when I was younger, he used to be my manager when I first started out in healthcare, super nice guy which only made it harder. I kept telling myself in my head, “you can’t be emotional right now because you gotta keep it together for your patient,” which I did very well at the bedside but I found it hard to concentrate when I was with my other patients. 
Does anyone else feel so deeply when “one of our own” is on the other side? I have known a few older nurses that have passed on and I always feel it so deeply that’s it’s uncomfortable. I think it’s because I look up to them so much, it pains me to see someone who has given their whole life to this profession, succumb to it. It’s hard to explain, but I know other nurses will know what I mean.  We are all human, it just feels as though we are invincible sometimes. How do people deal with watching “our own” on the other side of the bed? I think therapy may be in order. 

Sour Lemon

5,016 Posts

Has 13 years experience.
40 minutes ago, Nurse-please said:

Last night at work, I had a fellow coworker and fellow nurse seek care in our ED. She’s relatively young and the night ended with an admission and what’s going to be, more than likely, a terminal diagnosis. I won’t get into any details because she is a private person and I want to respect that.
She ended up relaying the info to me herself because the doctor had updated her prior to me reading the CT. I felt like I had been smacked in the face. I kept it together at the bedside and then cried in the bathroom immediately after. The only thing I wanted was for my shift to be over and go cry in my car. And now I sit here tonight with the entire scenario creeping into my head. I knew her husband when I was younger, he used to be my manager when I first started out in healthcare, super nice guy which only made it harder. I kept telling myself in my head, “you can’t be emotional right now because you gotta keep it together for your patient,” which I did very well at the bedside but I found it hard to concentrate when I was with my other patients. 
Does anyone else feel so deeply when “one of our own” is on the other side? I have known a few older nurses that have passed on and I always feel it so deeply that’s it’s uncomfortable. I think it’s because I look up to them so much, it pains me to see someone who has given their whole life to this profession, succumb to it. It’s hard to explain, but I know other nurses will know what I mean.  We are all human, it just feels as though we are invincible sometimes. How do people deal with watching “our own” on the other side of the bed? I think therapy may be in order. 

Honestly, I don't get this way of thinking- at all. It is sad when a coworker dies or has health issues ...but they've been born, had parents, had birthday parties, watched sunsets, had sisters and brothers and cousins, flown kites, learned to play the piano, graduated, fallen in love, traveled, gotten married, had children, climbed mountains, picked flowers, helped turtles cross the road, etc. I am just a coworker, and a tiny unremarkable compartment of their entire life experience. There's no way I could make their life or death about me or my feelings.

It would be terribly awkward if a coworker needed therapy because of my medical problems or cried about my medical circumstances in the bathroom. I'm trying to think of a way to make this sound nicer, but I'm too tired to figure it out at the moment.

Specializes in Med/Surg, LTACH, LTC, Home Health. Has 37 years experience.

I’m very sorry to hear of your coworker’s situation. Before I began typing, I skimmed over the past 35 years to see who may have held such a position in my heart, and could only think of one coworker whom I allowed to become a friend to somewhat of the magnitude of what you’re describing. When she died, I was hurt.  But as far as a “coworker”, I relate more to what Sour Lemon has said.

Of course, I sympathize with the sickness of anyone that I know, coworker or not. But emotional attachments on the job is not something I partake in...probably because I’m an introvert by nature.

I do wish you all the best in this situation, as well as that of your coworker and her family. 

Davey Do

1 Article; 10,193 Posts

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 44 years experience.

My heart goes out to you, Nurse-please, and it's obvious that you are appropriately attempting to deal with your foreseen loss. For example, even though you are feeling quite emotional, you focused on your patients the very best you could at this difficult time. I respect and admire that.

11 hours ago, Nurse-please said:

How do people deal with watching “our own” on the other side of the bed? I think therapy may be in order. 

The response from Sour Lemon is her way of dealing with circumstances such as this one. She has the rare ability to separate her emotional self from the situation at hand and focus on the priority of, for example, being a nurse.

I recall Sour Lemon stating, in a post on another thread when a member asked how they could separate their emotions during a traumatic patient situation, "It's not about me".

In order to deal with our feelings, we need to own them. Yes, it is entirely appropriate to feel highly emotional when a loved one is in a circumstance such as this one. It's even more okay to express those emotions as you did, Nurse-please, in your own space on your own time.

We all know that grieving is a process, and you, Nurse-please are on your way to acceptance, as you are considering therapy. That's a good, therapeutic thing to consider.

About 10 years ago, I lost a nurse/friend, Candy, who I highly respected and liked, and it was a sudden sharp blow to me: Candy was diagnosed with cancer and and was not long for this world.

My work wife Eleanor, Candy, and I often had shifts together. Eleanor visited and emotionally supported Candy. I paid for some of Candy's expenses and emotionally supported them both.

In other words, Eleanor and I did what we could do within our power and then went on with our lives. That is how we dealt with it.

The very best to you, Nurse-please.

JBMmom, MSN, NP

4 Articles; 2,353 Posts

Specializes in New Critical care NP, Critical care, Med-surg, LTC. Has 11 years experience.

I'm sorry to hear that your coworker is facing a likely terminal diagnosis, I understand that this can be a difficult situation for many people. To be honest, I don't know that the patient being a nurse in an of itself would make a situation much more difficult for me. Then again, I'm not especially close with the majority of my coworkers, I've cared for a few in our critical care unit and it wasn't really different than any other patients. I see patients dealing with unfortunate end of life circumstances all the time and the experience is generally one where I do not feel much emotional involvement. Maybe it's a defense mechanism, or just my personality, but if you think that talking with someone is something that will help you, that is an option you should definitely seek out. Take care. 

Specializes in Emergency Medicine. Has 7 years experience.
11 hours ago, Sour Lemon said:

Honestly, I don't get this way of thinking- at all. It is sad when a coworker dies or has health issues ...but they've been born, had parents, had birthday parties, watched sunsets, had sisters and brothers and cousins, flown kites, learned to play the piano, graduated, fallen in love, traveled, gotten married, had children, climbed mountains, picked flowers, helped turtles cross the road, etc. I am just a coworker, and a tiny unremarkable compartment of their entire life experience. There's no way I could make their life or death about me or my feelings.

It would be terribly awkward if a coworker needed therapy because of my medical problems or cried about my medical circumstances in the bathroom. I'm trying to think of a way to make this sound nicer, but I'm too tired to figure it out at the moment.

I didn’t mean I would go to therapy for this particular instance, I mean in general as a way to help cope with the ups and downs of the profession itself. I did not make that clear. I was not trying to make her situation about myself, and would never do that in any situation like this. I was just curious if others had trouble with these situations as well when you know the person through work. Clearly you do not, so good for you I guess? Thanks for your input, you definitely are a sour lemon LOL

JKL33

6,469 Posts

I did know a nurse whom I had worked with peripherally and always admired, and I did care for him/her as a patient in a scenario that was terminal. I hadn't seen the person for some months (since s/he had to take permanent leave due to the condition), and when I eventually saw them as my patient they were in bad shape. It did affect me in that I felt bad for them and sorry that someone who was a good example to others was now suffering. I provided the best care that I could. Some time later (months...) I learned they had died. Recalling good memories of this nurse's care and professionalism and then reading the obituary and appreciating the nurse as a person was enough for me to feel comfort.

I didn't have thoughts (or grief) above and beyond what I would for any other acquaintance with whom I had gotten along well or admired in some way. I don't really identify with your thought about someone being a nurse in this profession and then succumbing to [it]....unfortunately there is nothing about nursing that protects against the same sadnesses everyone else is up against in life.

You may be feeling a little vulnerable related to the simple acknowledgment that nurses and medical professionals are not immune...this scenario kind of puts that right in your face.

(hugs) -

 

Specializes in Emergency Medicine. Has 7 years experience.
1 hour ago, Davey Do said:

My heart goes out to you, Nurse-please, and it's obvious that you are appropriately attempting to deal with your foreseen loss. For example, even though you are feeling quite emotional, you focused on your patients the very best you could at this difficult time. I respect and admire that.

The response from Sour Lemon is her way of dealing with circumstances such as this one. She has the rare ability to separate her emotional self from the situation at hand and focus on the priority of, for example, being a nurse.

I recall Sour Lemon stating, in a post on another thread when a member asked how they could separate their emotions during a traumatic patient situation, "It's not about me".

In order to deal with our feelings, we need to own them. Yes, it is entirely appropriate to feel highly emotional when a loved one is in a circumstance such as this one. It's even more okay to express those emotions as you did, Nurse-please, in your own space on your own time.

We all know that grieving is a process, and you, Nurse-please are on your way to acceptance, as you are considering therapy. That's a good, therapeutic thing to consider.

About 10 years ago, I lost a nurse/friend, Candy, who I highly respected and liked, and it was a sudden sharp blow to me: Candy was diagnosed with cancer and and was not long for this world.

My work wife Eleanor, Candy, and I often had shifts together. Eleanor visited and emotionally supported Candy. I paid for some of Candy's expenses and emotionally supported them both.

In other words, Eleanor and I did what we could do within our power and then went on with our lives. That is how we dealt with it.

The very best to you, Nurse-please.

Thank you, and sorry for your loss. I appreciate the input of your personal experience. That was the intent of this post, to see how others cope with these difficult situations involving coworkers. I work at a small facility, everyone knows everyone so that may have some influence over the situation. My coworkers are like family to me and I know a lot of others who feel that way as well. 

JKL33

6,469 Posts

Another aspect is the idea of these being coworkers who are our similar age--that is to say, they are young enough that they are there working alongside us. They are people whose strengths we can witness day to day. Yes, it is hard to see them endure disease and the dying process.

JMO.

Specializes in Emergency Medicine. Has 7 years experience.
15 minutes ago, JKL33 said:

Another aspect is the idea of these being coworkers who are our similar age--that is to say, they are young enough that they are there working alongside us. They are people whose strengths we can witness day to day. Yes, it is hard to see them endure disease and the dying process.

JMO.

Yes, I think this hits the nail right on the head. It is incredibly sad to see someone who has an incredible wealth of knowledge and someone who is a great nurse, receive such a terrible diagnosis. 

Specializes in Critical Care.

I think your feelings are normal, especially watching a coworker dying from Corona that they may have gotten at work!  You have a comradeship with your family of coworkers.  We are all in this together especially this past year!  I think it is bonding us more than ever as we have worked under these difficult conditions.

I too feel sad just hearing of healthcare workers dying from Corona even if I don't know them personally.  I remember when Amber Vinson and Nina Pham got Ebola after taking care of their patient it was very upsetting to me even though I didn't know them.  So I did what I could,  prayed and hoped they would live and gave to their go fund me accounts.  Ebola had up to 90% mortality, but thankfully with modern medical care and experimental treatment they were able to save many more people.

Here we are watching fellow healthcare workers dying of Corona, even young and healthy people!  It is shocking and one can't help but be aware that it could happen to you too or a loved one.  It hits especially close to home.

I have cared for a couple coworkers who died and it was very hard for me.  Thankfully I wasn't there when they died.  Truthfully I don't think I could have handled it.  They were both young and had children, one younger than me.   One was in terrible pain from cancer and begging me to help and that I wasn't helping.  I wasn't her nurse, but I was charge that night and did all I could to make sure her nurse was able to get the Dr to order more pain meds.  The next day I was coming from a Dr appointment and I saw her and her family as she was going for a smoke break.  At that moment she was happy and not in pain so I was glad for that memory!

Specializes in Critical Care.
On 1/19/2021 at 1:37 PM, Nurse-please said:

I didn’t mean I would go to therapy for this particular instance, I mean in general as a way to help cope with the ups and downs of the profession itself. I did not make that clear. I was not trying to make her situation about myself, and would never do that in any situation like this. I was just curious if others had trouble with these situations as well when you know the person through work.

The situation affected you and you are doing the right thing by talking about it and seeking support among fellow nurses here at allnurses.  It is good to do that and not keep things bottled up.

While this situation is not the exactly the same as a code, it does bring to mind that debriefing is recommended after a code to help the staff go over what happened, express emotions and examine what could be done better the next time. 

You did everything you could and put your emotions aside while taking care of all your patients that night.  Some nurses are able to compartmentalize and set their emotions aside easier than others.  While it may sound cold, it actually allows someone to think calmly and objectively while taking care of their patients.  I would expect an ICU nurse would be able to do this as they see a lot of death.

As you mentioned this job brings a lot of stressful situations with it. Also  you may find yourself taking care of coworkers, neighbors and friends or friends of loved ones.  It really brings home the six degrees of separation.  Just do your best and say a little prayer if you would like. 

If you feel the need you could speak to someone from the EAP or even the hospital chaplain.  Journaling might help, talking here, and holding your family and friends close.

Wish you all the best!