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On Death And Dying

mayagoose mayagoose (New)

It was not long into my nursing career before I experienced the first death of a patient assigned to me

On Death And Dying

I was working on a telemetry unit and went in to assess the lung sounds of my patient who was on bed rest. I asked him if he could roll onto his side so that I could put my stethoscope to his back to listen. He complied. It was not long before I heard no lung sounds. I asked him to take a deep breath ... soon after another nurse came to me to tell me that at the nursing station the monitor showed a flatline. The patient was a DNR so no Code Blue was in order.

It was not long before I was in tears and blaming myself for the patient dying. A well-seasoned nurse asked me if this was the first time I had "lost a patient". She knew. That was about 20 years ago. Since then I have come to a place with myself of understanding that what the other nurse said was true. This changed my life gradually as time went on as would be expected. People are human. The only thing certain in life is death and taxes.

One day, years later, I was working at a nursing home. I had several CNAs who worked with me on a regular basis. They were young and as luck would have it none of them had ever experienced the death of a patient. In long-term care, there is much more time to get attached to someone that one takes care of and thus making the situation a bit more complicated. So that day was their first experience. They were crying and falling apart. I really needed them all as, of course, there were many other residents there who needed us as well. I called them for a meeting to regroup. We had to pull ourselves together as a team to deal with the emotions of the family as well as for the needs of the other residents. I explained to them that if they were going to work in the healthcare field, it was more than likely this would not be their last experience with this type of situation. I shared with them ...my story. My story of my first time. I explained how over time it would not be so difficult to deal with and it comes with experience.

The next day there was an article in the newspaper that told of a woman who shared my name. She found her husband in her garage pinned under a car he was working on. Her husband did not make it. I did not read the article, nor was I aware of it in any way. There was a lot of whispering going on amongst the CNAs. Finally, one of them pulled me aside and said: "we know that you handle death better than us but at least you could have taken a day off to grieve". They were all whispering about how if a person was in healthcare long enough there was probably nothing that would bother them.

It is something I will never forget. It was not even me. I tried to explain it to them, but I have a feeling some of them had their doubts. They were very young and impressionable. It truly was not me. As a matter of fact, there were three people in the area with my exact name.

No, I will never forget that one.

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4 Comment(s)

maybe it's not right to say this is funny but it is...


Specializes in surgical,urology, ENT. Has 6 years experience.


I remember the first time i saw one of my pallative clients took his last breath. Some how i knew that was his very last breath. I just felt utter sadness enveloped me when it happened. It was shallow and quick. In an instance he died, when 2 minutes ago he was living. That's reality. Thanks again for that great story that you've shared.


Specializes in Med/Surg.

thanks for sharing your experience, you have addressed one of my honest worry as a new nurse. I have actually turned down a hospice job offer today because I don't feel ready for such challenge yet.


Specializes in Home Health, Hospice.

Hospice is a calling, not for everyone. We, in America, tend to push aside the subject of death. Other cultures embrace it as a normal part of life. I think Hospice nurses help to cross that barrier of silence. It is the job I love most, and do best. Thank you for sharing.


Specializes in Neuro /Med-Surg.

Thank you for sharing you story. I experinced my first passing of life long before I was a nurse. It was my first husbands grandfather and I held his hand as he took his last breath. Since that I have been there for a few more passings including my own mothers ofter a very long and bitter battle with her failing liver. I have such a different view of death than most people I meet. I see death as a release from the pain of life, either from illness or life in general. You see when I was young some where around 8 - 10 my grandmother died. One of her sisters was so distrough cring and wailing begging to be allowed to go with her sister. I just could understand not only because I was young but for another reason.... a reason given to me by my grandmother. I was very close to my grandmother and loved her dearly, she was for me my light in darkness and my one constant in an ever changing life. She wasn't that dear sweet old lady you see tending flowers or giving candy to the neighborhood children. No, she was the one who would be working hard cleaning this or that when not at work and she believed children to to be seen and not heard. I knew on Sunday morning we would be in church me with my hands folded in my lap and her with her bible open and reading marking this or that. But I also remember sitting there on the bed at night talking with her while she brushed my hair. We talked about everything there on the bed just before lights out was the time to let all the days hardness pass from me while she explained those things I just didn't understand. The day she passed I cried and cried there in bed that night. At some point I guess I fell asleep or maybe I didn't. But I remember looking up as the room began to brighten almost as if the sun were rising but not exactly. Thats when I saw her.. my grandmother. She came to me and asked why I was cring so. I told her that it was because I was told she had died. She sat beside me on the bed wrapped her arms around me and said "Honey death is not a reason to cry. When people pass away all the apin of life is gone. Those who cannot walk are able to and those who can't see are able to see all the beauty God has created. Please don't be sad I no longer need shots of medication every day and I feel woderful. I told her that I would be able to talk to her anymore and what was I going to do with her gone. She said you can talk to me any time you feel like I will always her you. Then she kissed me and told me she loved me. Since then I just can't see death as a bad thing. I feel bad for the people who are left behind who are feeling all the same pain I felt that night when my grandmother explained it all to me and I hope and pray that there is someone in their life who will be able to comfort them. And I hope at least in some small way I am able to help at least a little.