Stopped at a car accident and patient died in my arms


I was sitting outside a friends house early Sunday morning saying goodbye when we both heard a massive car accident on the interstate. He looked at me and said someone is definitely hurt so we rushed down the road to see. I pulled up and there was a man on the ground and his friend holding his head. I walked closer and saw that he was obviously thrown from the car and had major head trauma. I'm a brand new nurse, less than 3 months on my first nursing job, so I was completely out of my element. I did not panic though, I thought of the basics, ABC, so I took my jacket off and applied pressure to his head wound. He was spitting up blood and blood was coming from his nose. I turned him to the side so he didn't choke on his blood. I could literally feel his pulse getting weaker and weaker, and I knew there was nothing I could do. About 15 minutes later Mr. Roy, a decorated Chief in the Navy, a husband and father of 2, died in my arms. They were rear-ended by a drunk driver, who fled the scene (they found her a few hours later and she's charged with DUI manslaughter along with other things)

I'm a psych nurse, we don't handle any type of trauma, but this experience really makes me want to be an ER nurse or OR nurse, but I don't know if I could handle it. I was not affected by the blood, or his head wound, or any of that at all, but I just feel so terrible, I didn't even know him but I feel like I lost someone. (Not to mention my father died 4 months ago and I was with him, holding his hand when he passed away). Me and the friend that was with me went and put a cross and flowers on the interstate where he died, and it almost brings me to tears when I see the huge spot of blood all dried up where he was laying on the concrete. I wonder if there's anything I could have done to save him that I didn't. I can handle the scene, just don't know if I can handle the emotional aspect of it, losing a patient. I've heard it will never get any easier, I'm just sad. Well thanks for reading.

Alex Egan, LPN, EMT-B

6 Articles; 857 Posts

Specializes in Home Health (PDN), Camp Nursing. Has 9 years experience.

How you feel. I was an EMT for years and you nev forget the ones you see just slow and then stop right in front of you. Accidents are the worst. Its worse because unlike the elderly or the severely ill the people on accidents arn't supposed to die. They didn't get them selves killed it was someone stupid, or a stupid mistake that just suddenly ends it for them. Its life interrupted which makes it just different. It gets easier with time, but that spot on the road will always jar you memory a little. That's one of the reasons I stopped running EMS. I was doing it in the area where I lived and there were to many ghosts around.

Home Health Columnist / Guide


11 Articles; 17,721 Posts

Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 46 years experience.


Thank you for caring about your community and being their so they did not die alone. Time will help heal you witnessing this trauma.

Remember that Employee Assistance Program can help one deal with traumatic events in our lives both on and off the job.

allnurses Guide


7,058 Posts

Specializes in Peds/outpatient FP,derm,allergy/private duty. Has 47 years experience.

You weren't affected by the wound or the blood because you connected with him as a person. It's good to talk about it. I'm feeling teary just thinking about it (((hugs))) to you. I'd like to reinforce NRSKaren's advice to seek out Employee Assistance to help you process this event.


143 Posts

I hope his family can find comfort some day in knowing that he was not alone when he died.

classicdame, MSN, EdD

2 Articles; 7,255 Posts

Specializes in Hospital Education Coordinator.

Everyone should be so lucky to die in the arms of someone offering comfort.

Flare, ASN, BSN

5 Articles; 4,431 Posts

Specializes in school nursing, ortho, trauma.

I think that sometimes we are put into a specific situation for a reason. Yes, the patient died in your arms, but he didn't die alone. He died with someone caring for him. Thank you for being there and caring for him in his final moments.

Take some time to care for your self. What you went through could rattle even the most seasoned trauma nurse. Without being there, nobody can play armchair quarterback as far as whether you could have done anything to save him. From the way it sounds though, it sounds like you did everything you could do, and it sounds like you did everything right.