I couldn't handle it and now I'm afraid...

Nurses General Nursing


I need advice. I am working on pre-req's and about to apply to nursing school. I want to go, I'm excited to go and there is nothing else I would prefer doing. But my grandmother just died and I couldn't handle it. She was in the hospital with a bladder and kidney infection and all of a sudden out of nowhere she's on a ventilator and the doctor is calling me at 11pm at night asking me about her directives. My entire family was out of town riding ATV's in Utah so I drove to the hospital and got there around 2am (I live 3 hours away from where Grandmother lived). I knew what the deal was. I knew that she would not live out the night. Intellectually I knew it. And I planned to go and sit by her until she passed. I felt I could do this because I was with my friend just before she passed from cancer, and even though I was upset, I wasn't freaked. Anyway, I went into the ICU room and the nurse was explaining all of the equipment and the medicines they had her on and what was going on with her body (no pulse below the knee, minimal pulse in her finger, sats around 65, agonal breathing on ventilator). I'm standing there by the bed and all of a sudden I felt my axis tilt and realized I was about to faint so I sat down in the chair and put my head between my legs for a minute. I had to go out in the waiting room and call my dad and try to explain to him what was going on and ask him about her directives. I was feeling intense anxiety and was claustrophobic. I wanted to get out of there so bad and at the same time I felt like the lowest person for wanting to leave. After the directives were communicated to the doctor (DNR) and they decided to just let the IV bag with meds run out instead of taking her off the vent I had to go. I could not stay there and watch my grandmother die. The nurse assured me she would stay, but I felt so awful because I KNOW my grandmother would have wanted me there. I talked to her and held her hand and told her that I loved her and that if it was God's will for her to go that she should go and walk with Him. And then I left. How am I going to be able to be in this profession if this is the kind of reaction I had? All of the machines and beeping were just freaking me out. I wanted to just cover my ears and scream. I am committed to NS, but I am terrified about what's going to happen during clinicals. Am I doomed?

Specializes in Surgical, Critical Care, LTC & SAR.

Oh sweetheart I just want to say first that I am so sorry for your loss. And just because you felt it too tough to watch your grandmother pass does not mean you can't handle the profession of nursing by a long shot. My daughter was in the NICU after she was born for a week and I was in nursing school at the time. The constant beeping and machines and such drove me insane and I couldn't handle it. I was so upset for my daughter and such a mess about the whole thing I had the same concerns as you. This experience is on a lower level than yours but similar in that I questioned my abilities because of my reaction....and let me say this-when its YOUR family member, its SO different. Sure there are times when you have formed a bond with your patients and families of, but in no way (IMO) does it compare to the same as when it is your grandmother in the bed and you have no other family around to lean on and help you get through it.

Take one day in school, one day at work, and one patient at a time and you will be fine. :)

You are not doomed.

This was a sudden event with a family member and not an unrelated patient, and I think you handled it just fine. Don't despair. A death--any death even an expected and welcome one--is a hard event for families and caregivers. But as the nurse you will perceive the dying patient in a different way then the family does and there isn't a lifetime of bonding experiences, responsibilities and regrets flashing through your mind. I've watched so many people die, but none of those deaths were as difficult to see as the deaths of my parents. Even with all of my experience, their deaths took me apart. Understanding that aspect of the family experience makes me a better nurse when interacting with families and survivors.

I am so sorry for your loss.

I lost my father recently, and I kind of understand what you mean. I am not very far into nursing school, but I have come to realize that it's different when it's not your loved one in that situation. It is easier to remain somewhat detached. There have been moments where the emotion comes flooding back. For me, it was during a lecture/discussion on directives, end-of-life decisions, etc. It felt fresh again, and I found myself analyzing every decision we made and wondering if we could have done anything differently, and breaking down and crying some. I am sure that there will be other times during clinicals when I am affected again, but it's not going to be all the time, or every day. As time passes, it will become easier and easier.

Give yourself time to grieve for your grandmother, and don't worry too much about how it will affect you long-term. See a counselor or spiritual adviser if you feel it would help you, talk to your nursing instructor if you need to, and just do what you have to do.

You can do this!

Specializes in Community, OB, Nursery.

I will add my two cents and agree that there is a HUGE difference between watching a loved one suffer and/or die, and being present for a patient when s/he is doing the same thing. While you may be emotionally attached to the patient or family, it is a completely different type of attachment.

I have held lots of babies as they died, but if I had to watch my own child die, you would probably have to peel me off the ceiling.

I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved grandma. (((hugs))) Wherever she is, she will be proud of you when you finish school.

Specializes in Med-surge, hospice, LTC, tele, rehab.

I'm sorry for your loss. The day my mother died of lung cancer, I literally couldn't handle watching her die either. I had to leave the room and wait in the hospital hallway. I was 23 years old. Fortunately my brother and sister were with her and they each held her hand while she died. Then my sister came out and told me she was gone. My father had died the year before so needless to say he wasn't there either.

But cut to 8 years later I am an RN. When I worked in hospice, I have held the hands of patients while they died. Though it is hard and it has choked me up because of watching the patient suffer and the family go through that pain, (because I know what they are going through), it's not the same as me watching my own mother die.

As a nurse, you have to step back from it a bit even though you care about your patient. You will have the strength to be there for the family because you can relate to their pain. Don't think that this makes you too weak to be a nurse. Knowing what the family is going through will make you more caring.

Specializes in Peds Medical Floor.

I've worked in LTC for 9 years. I'm used to being around dying people. I couldn't handle it when my own grandmother died from Alzheimer's. I was a mess. In your professional life you learn to almost detach yourself (as much as you can) in a way you don't when it's a family member.

Specializes in ER.

being a nurse goes out the window when you're dealing with your own. You are a family member dealing with a loved one. Just because you may *know* what is happening doesn't mean you'll deal with it as a *professional* at that moment. No one expects you to. When you're a nurse, you'll act professionally within that role for those families of that patient when it's your turn to support. That time for you was the time to be the family, not the nurse.

when it is our own, wanting to become/being a nurse has no relationship.

you have absolutely nothing to fear, i promise you.

give yourself and time, a chance.

heartfelt condolences for your loss.


I am sorry for your loss. The death of a loved one is very different than that of a patient.

It sounds like you are quite sensitive about death and dying.

I can relate! After 28 years,I feel death is ugly and cruel.

Please consider other area to put your kind and sensitive heart to work.

Your Grandma knows you did your best, you did what you could, you are only human.

Specializes in behavioral health.

You have my deepest sympathy.

As others have stated, it is totally different when it comes to your own family. You were watching someone that you knew and loved your whole life. Do give yourself the time to grieve your loss. This should not affect your decision to be a nurse. You will be able to hold the patients hand and be with them when it is not your own. You said that you were there for a friend passing with cancer; however, your grandmother was your family all of your life. You said your good-bye to your grandma, and I am sure that she knew that you did your best. I am sure that she went peacefully and was grateful for you being there before she died. You did not fail anyone.

Specializes in OB/GYN, Peds, School Nurse, DD.

No, you are not doomed. I wish I could reach through the screen and give you a hug. You were in an impossible situation. Even the most hardened nurse can lose their senses when it's THEIR family in the bed. When my father was dying I actually had to have a nurse take me aside and point out what was happening to him--I didn't recognize the signs at all.

Don't be so hard on yourself. You were a good granddaughter and your grandma would be distressed if she knew how upset you were. Did you ever think that maybe she held out longer just so you could *leave* the room? My grandfather did that. Sat up, ate his dinner, told the kids to go home. They didn't even make it to the end of the parking lot. He passed just that quick. They were very upset about "abandoning" Grandpa, but I know in my heart that he was intent on not causing more pain and grief. In the end, everybody was okay with it once they understood what really happened.

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