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Coping with traumatic patient death

by LadyBug3177 LadyBug3177 (New) New

I'm a CNA, so I hope I'm posting to the correct forum...anyway, hello there. I'm new here and have been searching the Internet for advice or answers to something that has been bothering me, but nothing.

I've been in this field for 11 or so years. I started in LTC and eventually switched to home healthcare with brain and spinal cord injuries. For the past 8 years, I have been really good at keeping patients alive and well. Recently, I have returned to geriatrics, working in assisted living.

Before that, my experience regarding patient death in LTC was pretty normal. Usually expected, sometimes not expected, but somehow, our residents always passed in bed. This past Monday night, one of our residents expired unexpectedly in their bathroom in a physical position that caught us all by surprise and left us (or at least me) a little spooked. I had ran into the room mentally preparing for one scene, but saw another. We had to move the body and lay the person on the floor. We called FD to come in and pronounce the body, and I swear, 10 firefighters showed up and paraded through the room in a line, all checking the body 1 by 1! 10 ff's!! Why so many?!?! I keep replaying that image of our resident in my head over and over at times thinking it will make dealing with it easier. It doesn't. Not one supervisor has reached out to me and all of our other CNA's have texted me just wanting to know the gory details.

I return to work tomorrow night. I've been calm all week but now I'm starting to become anxious and dreadful of my upcoming work week. How do you cope with a disturbing death? I've been a night owl all my life, so why am I now afraid of the dark? Have you found a deceased resident in a dignity compromising, unusual, maybe even frightening position before? I don't know what to do. 11 years of this work and now I want to quit.

i havent had that exact scenario happen, but something that for me, was pretty traumatic. i experienced my first code blue/patient death, and the lady was completely and totally ok right before..talking and eating and then BLAM. i was so freaked out that i called the staffing office and begged to go home! they firmly told me that no, i could not in fact, go home, and to go back in there. honestly, just talking it out helped the most...just getting it all off my chest, and it took a while, even still. your situation though, sounds horrific. i would just try and find a loved one to talk it over with, or write a journal entry about it even..tell your manager that you need to talk to someone about what you experienced. sorry that happened! when i worked in a nursing home, years ago..there was a little guy who was ill, and he was begging me to stay with him and talk to him...i was doing the laundry, and i told him i would be back as soon as possible. long story short, i came back and the poor man had been dead for an hour or so, totally not looking good at all. i felt AWFUL. i spent weeks just horrified by what happened, and the only thing that helped was talking it out, and just doing my best to get over it. i think you will be ok though! i wouldnt even have been able to come here and write about it, so that is something good, at least!

Thanks...I think I'll try the journal thing over the weekend while I'm working and figure out who to talk to about it. Our manager is kind of funny, so I'm not sure if she'll even help me out. Other than the physical image, there's just so many questions that we will never have answers to regarding the whole situation and that's stressful as well.

sometimes you can google stuff. shoot, you might even type something into the search thing on here and maybe someone who had a similar experience has posted about it, and you could find answers in that thread..there are also some cna facebook pages that might help too!


Specializes in Hospital medicine; NP precepting; staff education. Has 20 years experience.

First of all, I'm sorry you're experiencing this.

Does your agency have a social worker you could talk to a debrief?

Momof8CNA - I've Googled all sorts of things before coming here but nothing felt even close to my situation. Maybe I typed in the wrong words here but nothing at all came up here. I was able to talk to a police officer friend today about it and feel a little better. For the moment. I am still going to work tonight rather than calling out, though. That may end up being the best thing, I don't know yet.

WKShadowRN - we used to have a visiting NP, but even she has left the company. Right now, we really have no one that I know of. Although, we do have a compliance line we can call now but I don't know if this would fall under that? I guess it doesn't hurt to call and ask. I didn't even think of that before.

Do you have access to an employee assistance program? We have one and they can help you find assistance for free, such as counseling. Usually the first session is free, paid for through the program. If you have access, it would be worth using.

hookyarnandblanket I will look into it, for sure.

I made it into the door tonight and started blubbering like a fool at the front desk. I've been busy ever since, so that's helped.

Thank you all for the advice and letting me come here as a newbie and vent. It is greatly appreciated!

LadyBug, I'm sorry you had this happen.

Your instinct to talk this out with someone who is in the same field (or who is in a similar field) is right on. Firefighters, police officers and even the dispatchers get together after a traumatic experience and do a "crisis debrief." They talk it out and get all their fears and questions (even the questions that don't have answers) out in the open. I think you should talk to your manager, the facility's social worker or even one of your former coworkers or managers at your old job. You need to talk to someone who has been there. Good luck! Good Luck!

So while I was at work, I started journaling all of my questions, etc and then was able to sit down with one of the nurses I work well with. She didn't offer up much advice other than reassurance and reminding me there was nothing anyone could have done, it was the patients' time to go. But, she did listen to everything I needed to get off my chest and that helped a lot. And then she reminded me of my skill set and that I'm more than capable of handling these situations; not everyone can die peacefully in bed.

Again, thank you guys for reading and responding. Bless you all!