Through the Eyes of An ICU Nurse

As nurses we all struggle, when it comes to death, and the support of families, does it effect you? How do you cope? It seems as a general consensus we are suppose to be strong for our patients, but we are humans too, and sometimes we cry; - even in private if we have to. This is an article on how my patients have affected me; this is a few examples of some shifts I've worked. This is what it's like to be an ICU nurse every shift.


Everyone copes with things differently, but often times I write to help me cope with the difficult woes of my job. I often don't share, but this time I thought, why not let some of you guys have some insight into the life of an ICU nurse?

If it wasn't for the outpouring of love and emotional support from my coworkers, I often don't think that I could do it, and I think as a team they are incredible and mean so much to me and have taught me so much, so thank you.


You'll never know how much you affect me. You'll never know that I had to step out to get some air and call my own mother, just hear her voice, and be thankful that I still have her in my life. You'll never know that I went home and cried my eyes out in my shower thinking about the struggle and loss your family is going through.

I bring you water and tissues, you thank me.... it's the least I can do. I stand by you and hold your hand, and hug you as you sob. Your selfless decision to let your mother go peacefully is the most beautiful and difficult decision you could've ever made...I wish you could believe and understand how incredible and courageous that act of love looks like from the outside, even though you're broken and shattered on the inside. You stand by her side as we turn off life support. She was loved.

You'll never know how much that sad look in your eyes and the glisten I notice on the verge of tears, eats me up inside. You offer me food, with a cracking voice, because you're incredibly selfless and have no appetite. You sit next to your son and read him a story knowing this may be the last time. You beat yourself for not being there, blame yourself for his disorder. I tell you it wasn't your fault, it's genetic, as you look away from me with tears in your eyes. You ask if he will ever be able to breathe again on his own, I wish could tell you yes, but his muscles are deteriorating and his disease is unforgiving and undeserved. You hold his hand wishing for these final moments to last forever, you try to cherish them.


Your youngest daughter was rolled onto our unit unresponsive. She was pronounced brain dead by the attending; you fall to the floor, a blubbering mess, demanding to have the test redone because you swear you saw her eye move; it didn't. I help you off the floor as you are bawling into the blanket that she used to sleep with every night.

I am left there by the attending to pick up the pieces of families' and friends' broken hearts.

You have a large family, I keep explaining what just happened to each person that re-enters and asks questions. They are all so thankful for the honesty, even though it's the last thing anyone wants to hear. You so desperately want to understand why she is dead if her body is still functioning on life support. I re-explain, but you can't comprehend, you keep asking yourself why? Each time a little piece of my heart is with you, I wish desperately that she could just wake up and be your baby girl again; but she can't, she never will be. I watch you as you stroke her head gentle as tears roll down your cheeks; "just one more day," you wish you could talk to her just one more time. You yell at her to "Wake up! Please, please wake up", you beg and plead. I give you your space, you need these final moments with your daughter.

I secretly cry in the bathroom for you. I am there for you, I support you, and my heart hurts for you.

I will never forget you.

You'll never know how much you affect me.

You'll never know how privileged I feel to be your ICU nurse.

An ICU nurse in a very large hospital that treats the sickest patients in our state and the surrounding area

3 Articles   7 Posts

Share this post

Specializes in ICU.

This is exactly how I feel on so many days. It's a hard job. It's harder mentally than physically I feel. There are a couple of cases that I still hold on to months later.

Esme12, ASN, BSN, RN

4 Articles; 20,908 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care, ED, Cath lab, CTPAC,Trauma. Has 43 years experience.


Sometimes it just stinks.

I can't think of anything I'd rather do...Even after 35 years. I love being a nurse.

Specializes in Medical/Surgical/Telemetry RN. Has 4 years experience.

This is an incredible post. I am currently in Nursing school and this post solidifies why I chose nursing in the first place. Thank you.

3ringnursing, BSN

1 Article; 543 Posts

Specializes in ICU; Telephone Triage Nurse. Has 25 years experience.

This is so beautiful and spot on.


48 Posts

such a touch job in ICU, I'm a strong person, cann't hold tears back, heartbreaking.................


3,726 Posts

What you go through is heart wrenching, it's even heartbreaking just to read. Thank you for what you do.


203 Posts

Specializes in Home Health, Mental/Behavioral Health. Has 4 years experience.

Thank you so much for sharing. So beautifully written. I salute you and all ICU nurses. You guys are angels :saint:

CardiacDork, MSN, RN

3 Articles; 577 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 9 years experience.

What makes my heart burst out from my chest is sitting in family meetings, watching family cry and fall to the ground saying, "I love her. I will miss her... but she needs to be in peace and this isn't peace for her. I know she wouldn't want to be kept alive like this". That single selfless act of letting go just makes me want to break out into tears. Fortitude and selflessness, true love.

At the end of the day I love being an ICU nurse.

Has 33 years experience.

These scenarios are not specific to ICU nursing. I have encountered them in many other areas.

Professionals must separate themselves from the emotional pain of patients and their loved ones. THAT is what makes us a professional.

Crying in the bathroom gets you, and your clients, nowhere.


3,726 Posts

These scenarios are not specific to ICU nursing. I have encountered them in many other areas.

Professionals must separate themselves from the emotional pain of patients and their loved ones. THAT is what makes us a professional.

Crying in the bathroom gets you, and your clients, nowhere.

I don't think taking a moment after a tragedy to purge some humanity and then getting back to it gets you no where nor makes you a non professional.

That's different than not being able to cope on a regular and/or frequent basis.

Depends on the individual nurse.


2 Posts

I have had many nights like this one but the one that stands out the most in my mind is the night I had to tell a young friend that her husband and the father of her four young children would not survive the gunshot he suffered to his head. He was shot in the head while driving down the road with all of his children in the car. She was out of town. I made it to the hospital with the rest of the family before she got there and was able to speak to the nurses caring for him. I understood how devastating this injury truly was and now I had to tell her he would never wake up, that she would never be able to talk to him or feel his hugs and kisses again. I held her as she cried and her mom who is a good friend of mine also. Many times throughout those 48 hours I had to step away and cry. I am thankful for the nurses on duty that day - we shared many tears together as this young woman and her family touched our lives.

Our patients and their families rarely see the tears we shed for them as we hold them while they are losing someone that they love. We are human after all and we do what we do because we care.