PTSD from COVID Deaths - Help getting back

Updated:   Published

Has anyone experienced trauma with patient death? How did you recover? Did you return to your job? Any tips on dealing with patient death? Hoping anyone might be able to relate and can share their journey or have some advice. Short story I had been a nurse 1.5 years cardiac critical care but mostly COVID PCU/ICU Dec 2020-Nov21 I had a lot of personal intense heavy issues going on in my life including many high school friends dying. Before that job I had never experienced any patients die or comfort care but on this job I started to and some were very traumatic. Events lead to me going into PTSD shock and IDK how to get back to where I was before and really need help.

I started working on a cardiac progressive care unit that functioned like an ICU Dec 2020 with 6 months experience having never ever seen a patient on comfort care or patient die even with working as a CNA on a CPCU for 2 years. When I started on this unit it was basically a COVID PCU/ICU. I had never dealt with such sick and critical patients and worked extremely hard to get on the same level and be as good as these nurses to handle these patients and I finally did but life happened. During the Summer COVID had eased up but I was dealing with some heavy stuff with family, 5 almost 6 friends from high school died tragically randomly, and other stuff happened in my life. I began experiencing the most extreme fatigue of my life, went to the Dr 3 times couldn't figure it out, little did I know I was experiencing burn out. August COVID got extremely bad again we were double bunking again and we were doing intubations daily and patients were just on BiPAP for weeks and when they finally got intubated they lasted only a few days and then just died because they were already too far gone. We were running out of vents and it was just chaos. I experienced a sincerely traumatic comfort care/death and like I said I had almost no experience with this, my only life experience with death was my grandmother that I was very close with and I had accidentally seen her body taken out of the home. The patient that went on comfort care looked exactly like her and it was an extremely traumatic day but I had to just act like nothing happened and move on. Anyway more and more patients kept getting intubated and dying until one was personal and was a painful one for me. Another event in my life happened and I went into complete shock and PTSD in November. My life since has completely turned upside down. I've worked so hard to get better I went on medical leave and I didn't feel quite ready but was pushed into going back to work beginning of this Feb with short shifts but once I started taking patients my whole life crumbled, it impacted my relationships and I could hardly take care of myself. In less than 2 weeks. The last shift I worked my boss and charge nurse had to take my to the ED in the middle of the shift because I had made concerning comments about myself.

I'm fortunate that I am back on medical leave but March was supposed to mark my two years as a nurse. I was supposed to start travel nursing and be moving up in my career. Now, I can't even support myself financially or work. I can't be in the hospital because I can't deal with anything having to do with patient death. I absolutely loved my job it is and was my whole identity being a cardiac critical care nurse. It's all I want to go back to and I'm being told that I should probably just start back in a clinic and hope that someday I can get back in that position. I was seeing a therapist since May but she took on a new job in this middle of this Jan 1, I went to a therapist in her office that was not helpful and dismissive. It has been SO hard to find a new one but I'm still trying. I exercise, walk daily, journal, read mental health books. I've been doing EMDR but have to pay out of pocket.  Please I would sincerely I appreciate any feedback.

JBMmom, MSN, NP

4 Articles; 2,344 Posts

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

I'm sorry that you've had such a traumatic experience, you are definitely not alone. I can't figure out how to link it but if you look for "Nursing PTSD is real" (right now it's on the second page) there is another very similar recent thread that has some good advice. 

You have been through a lot personally and professionally and I'm sorry that it's been such a difficult experience. COVID ICU was nursing was awful for almost everyone. We experienced losses in numbers that we will hopefully never see again. I hope that you know that you were in NO WAY responsible, new nurses and seasoned nurses alike experienced these losses, these patients were sick and many died awful deaths. 

I hope that you are able to find the mental health support that will be so vital in getting you back to a place where you can hopefully love nursing again, and maybe back to critical care if it will work for you. Take care of yourself and best wishes!

Avill, BSN, RN

3 Articles; 376 Posts

Specializes in School Nursing, Home Health. Has 8 years experience.

Hi OP,

This is so sad to read, I am so so sorry for all the trauma you’ve endured but so very thankful you were there working those floors.

I haven’t experienced anything like this so I can’t say I understand, but I can say you’re not alone. I wanted to respond because you posted this for advice and I wanders SOMEBODY to respond.

All I can say is that if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. Nothing is worth your well being, not even a career.

I’m not saying leave nursing completely, but about working outside of the hospital for a bit ? I’m at a school and so home health and love. Whatever you decide to you , I really wish you the best

alaskaman

63 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care Emergency Room. Has 29 years experience.

You probably know already that talking it out is the main way to recover from traumatic events. The other thing that will help is to understand that the world is going through a worldwide pandemic. It is real. Step back and just consider that for a few minutes. Many times in life events intrude into our lives this one is on a global scale. It is huge. There is no shame in being impacted and in fact seeking help is admirable. Until you find a personal therapist look for groups. The EAP at your work site may be helpful. Speak with your doctor about a trial of the SSRI antidepressants and be honest about your symptoms. 

I just returned from 4 months in a city where many people died from CoV19. It is a war so pat yourself on the back for working within it. You are courageous and dedicated. You are not alone in your role and your feelings and I think that you're taking the right steps o support yourself. 

Losing anyone to death is harsh, I take solace n knowing that their suffering has ended and love myself for being there to help them. Courage it takes, gratitude it yields. Keep talking....

Specializes in NICU. Has 40 years experience.

Certainly feel  empathy for your pain and PTSD.I am glad you took the right steps to help yourself.If you are in therapy I strongly suggest you continue with it even after you are 100% better.I have found that therapy can improve your coping ability  and family relationships. I am better for having gone that route once for work issues and later for personal reasons. As nurses we have the pressure of having only one way to do things ...the correct way...no mistakes..no forgiveness.Family life is not like that,there are ebbs and flows ,forgiveness and forgiving oneself.When you can align these two,you will be better at both. Covid has stretched our patience, flexibility, strength beyond human limits. But if you can put one foot in front of the other you are doing good.

Guest

0 Posts

Emotional trauma can be cumulative for health professionals.  Your employer should have some support available.  Don't give up on finding a good fit in a therapist.  

Good luck!

alaskaman

63 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care Emergency Room. Has 29 years experience.

First off you are not alone in your reaction and symptoms. Your response is a natural event related to a world wide pandemic. Talking talking talking is the recovery ticket. Like many you thing you can do it. Give yourself a year talking weekly, potentially groups as well. Get financial support any way that you can. I do not know if you have already done these but talking with a trained person can help you estimate when or if you want to return to patient care. Although you do love your position, there are many avenues in Nursing. Do not despair. You have given your heart and soul to people and now it's time for you to get well. This is NOT atypical or unusual. You have fought a world wide pandemic and more.

Go easy of yourself, and I mean by that be good to yourself. 

OK?

don't rush, take time and get completely well.

JBMmom, MSN, NP

4 Articles; 2,344 Posts

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

I thought I had replied a while back, but I had computer issues and I guess it didn't post. I'm sorry that you've had such a difficult time. I know that my last two years in ICU have been pretty bad, with January being the worst month of certainly my professional career- and it started affecting my personal life as well. So many deaths, especially from November to January, and so many seemed needless, since almost all of ours were unvaccinated patients.

I can only imagine that having personal tragedy during COVID just compounded things. I'm glad that you found the professional help that you needed. I wish I had an answer for how to get past it, and hopefully return to a job that you loved. I guess I would say just be kind to yourself. Everyone deals with things differently, so listen to your body and your soul, and hopefully you will land where you need to be. Good luck!

Specializes in Med Surg. Has 16 years experience.

I am so sorry that you're going through this. I have read other replies from where you posted and can agree with those.  I too have had a similar experience while working on COVID unit and honestly it was the worse thing I have seen in my career as a nurse.  Having life issues come up as well I ultimately decided to step away from the hospital environment.  I have a plan B career I can utilize but it doesn't pay the bills.  I am having better luck with seeing patients in a home care setting.  The most important thing is to try to let it go and find peace.  I know its easier said than done.  I'm living proof that it takes hard work and lots of support from family, friends, god, and therapy.  I tried online counseling and it helped some but I will also be seeking out in person sessions as that is more effective for me in the past.  I really wish you the best and make sure to take care of yourself first.  As you heal, you will find the answers that work best for you.  

hppygr8ful, ASN, RN, EMT-I

4 Articles; 4,678 Posts

Specializes in Psych, Addictions, SOL (Student of Life). Has 21 years experience.

You might consider looking for a therapist who is experienced in the treatment of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This a real diagnosis and makes the most common PTSD seem like a walk in the park. In truth most PTSD patients actually have CPTSD. I believe many nurses and other health care professionals will require this type of treatment which includes learning mindfulness and a coping skill, CBT, EMDR and yes even some desensitization. You can take back your life but the work required is hard. Still it is so worth it.

To learn more about CPTSD I recommend reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk