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I lied...a story of how I outright LIED to patient's family.

Specialties Emergency Article   posted

JDougRN specializes in ER.

The time I lied...to my patient's family. I hope it makes me a good nurse and helped the family, because it made me sad as hell.... Sometimes as nurses we need to blur the lines. Sometimes we deal with things that erode our soul, and only other nurses will ever understand the things we have to deal with, the things we have to internalize and go on.

I lied...a story of how I outright LIED to patient's family.
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I got the call on the EMS radio around 5 am. This is the usual time we get calls from EMS responding to nursing homes- The nurses are rounding on their patients to give am meds, and they find their residents dead or in distress. An 87 yo female, febrile, and in severe respiratory distress coming in. Pt is a DNR, but family is very involved, is aware, and will meet them in the ER.

I'm alerted that family is in the waiting room before the patient even gets there. I go out and introduce myself, tell them I will be her nurse, and that I will bring them back as soon as I get her settled in the room.

EMS arrives, and carefully transfers their frail burden onto one of my stretchers. You can see the relief on their faces, that they got her here and are able to hand her off before she dies on their watch. I'm now the proud owner of one very ill person. Temp 102+, Respiratory rate 14 and irregular. HR 50's, sat 84% on NRB, I don't need my Littmann to hear the rhonchi- Other hx is advanced dementia, DM, CHF. Has been in the nursing home for about 6 months- her husband had taken care of her at home as long as he could, but it finally got too much for him to manage, as he was also dealing with his own health problems at the age of 92.

I got her settled, and the Doc comes in- I give him the pertinent info- Not a whole lot we can do at this point other than make her comfortable and treat the infection. Chances are poor that she will make it, and we both know it. Doc moves on to deal with people he can help, leaving me in control of this mess.

I bring her visitors in, including her only daughter in her 60's, and several close friends of the family. I get them settled in and TRY explain to them what is going on. They don't get how bad off she is- I try to explain it to them in soft terms- They share with me who she is- a wife, a mother, a friend.I learn her husband is frail and elderly. I strongly suggest that if he is able, that he come. The daughter tells me she is going to leave to go get Dad. I explain that mom could go at any moment, each gasp she takes could be her last. I don't want them to have to deal with the idea that she died without ANY of her family around. But I REALLY wanted her husband there. The daughter calls her husband, who is dispatched to go get him dressed and here.

In this age of technology, we can keep up with a lot of things. I'm updated that son in law is at dad's house, he's getting him dressed, getting him loaded in the car with the wheelchair. I'm watching my patient brady down, 50's, 40's 30's....The monitor is alarming, and my pt.'s daughter sees it. Husband lands in the parking lot, and the son in law is getting him loaded in his wheelchair.

Then she died, no resps, asystole on the monitor. The daughter asks me- "Is she gone?"

"Not yet" I told her her- I gave her some silly answer- the monitor isn't picking up anything because she is so sick. I mute the alarms, turning the monitor away so she can't see the flat line.. I send 2 of my male coworkers to go out and GRAB the husband, RUN him in.

He arrives, looking a bit baffled at the whirlwind of men running out to snatch him out of his van and deliver him to trauma room 3.

I kneel down and introduce myself. I told him. "I'm sorry, but your girl is dying." He looks at me without comprehension. I took his hand, and joined it with his dead wife's. I told him "Your wife is dying right now- tell her you are here, tell her you love her- these are the last things you will be able to tell her....Tell her it's OK to go-"

He grasped her hand and brought it to his temple. "I love you baby....it's OK to go, I'm here."

I waited a minute and placed my stethoscope to her chest, made a big deal pronouncing her time of death as just then.

I lied- she died without her husband.... but that is something they will never know, but I will live with forever. I know I helped the living, but damn, holding this stuff inside hurts. I tried to explain it to my husband when I got home. He didn't get it. This is something I carry inside.

I know my fellow nurses will understand. Thanks for letting me vent and get this out.

ER RN, 22 year(s) of experience

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Christy1019, ASN, RN

Specializes in Emergency/Trauma/Critical Care Nursing.

Oh my gosh, that brought me to tears. It is a heavy burden we often carry, to keep calm in the face of other's pain, however what you did for that family was something so special. I can only hope to be as strong and brave as you if faced with a similar situation. I know that you brought this family immeasurable comfort, and I hope that you may hold onto that instead of feeling as if you lied. :)


That just took the wind right out of me.

Very poignant and well written. Still, it was hard to read.


Specializes in LTC.

OP - I understand you. Be gentle to yourself - you deserve it.

Huge hugs! I am so moved by this story. Thank you for sharing it. You have an extremely beautiful heart and the gift that you have given to that man . . . *tears* You are so brave!

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

`snif` dang---got something in my eyes.....

That was truly the most compassionate gift you could have given. God bless you.


Specializes in Emergency room, Neurosurgery ICU.

Oh my gosh, that brought me to tears. It is a heavy burden we often carry, to keep calm in the face of other's pain, however what you did for that family was something so special. I can only hope to be as strong and brave as you if faced with a similar situation. I know that you brought this family immeasurable comfort, and I hope that you may hold onto that instead of feeling as if you lied. :)

(((((HUGS)))))) I couldn't have said anything better than this, but it bears repeating. You gave the husband the time to be at peace with his wife's passing, and that is more than OK in my book...You showed empathy and compassion for not only your patient, but for the family, isn't that what nurses strive to do, even in the most complicated and sad situations? Brava!


Specializes in SICU.

Oh wow! You did a beautiful thing there!!!!

You were brave. Don't feel bad for what you did. You gave a family peace.

cjcsoon2bnp, MSN, RN, NP

Specializes in Emergency Nursing.

Dictionary.com defines a lie as "a false statement with deliberate intent to deceive". You didn't lie my friend, you gave a dying patient's husband and her family a chance to say goodbye. They deserved that and you alone gave them that chance. This speaks volumes to your character and your abilities as a nurse. Even in her last moments, you took care of your patient by taking care of her family.

Having personally worked in an emergency department and in other acute-care settings caring for patients who are actively dying (and their families), I can understand where you are coming from and would have made the same decision, without question. Please don't see this as a burden that you must bare by yourself or a sin for which you must seek absolution. I would be honored to work beside you and sincerely hope that if a member of my family was in the same situation a nurse like you would be caring for them.

!Chris :specs:

Edited by cjcsoon2bnp

Bridgid Joseph, BSN, MSN, APRN, CNS

Specializes in Surgery,Critical Care,Transplant,Neuro.

such a touching and compassionate story.....you did exactly what the family needed to help them heal!! You are an excellent nurse!!!

I can only hope that if something as tragic as this occurs to anyone I know, I hope and pray a nurse like you is there. You are the epitomy of what a nurse is and does. What you did was not lie to them but comfort and show compassion for all involved.

Please don't let this eat at you. You have nothing to feel guilty about.

Thanks for sharing your story. I don't think what you did was lie...you showed a great deal of compassion and understanding for those who had to deal with the passing. What you did was bring comfort to that poor man in such a dark time. Bravo!

How does your husband not understand ? That's the part I am confused about. You did a wonderful thing. You handled it perfectly and you did it with no time to even think it through. It shows you are a wonderful and compassionate human being.

I "caught" a nurse in that same lie when my husband's grandfather was dying. My husband, brother- in- law and I were the last to arrive. No resps, monitor in asystole. The nurse had told my father in law that he was " just barely hanging on". She panicked a little when another family member told her I was an ER nurse and my BIL was a paramedic. We kept her secret. To this day my FIL believes that we made it " just in time". I know believing that gives him peace.

😢 you're are an amazing nurse. I hope I have the courage to be half the nurse you are one day. Im still a student.

No, she didn't die with her husband there. But YOU were there. You were what that family needed. Thanks for sharing that.

You gave that family peace during a difficult time. You should feel no guilt. That is a "lie" I would tell 1,000 times. I hope you find peace with yourself. It is these tough times that take a toll on us.

Thank you for sharing. Beautifully written and heartfelt.

You provided a family the opportunity to say good bye. You did them a wonderful kindness.


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