- 17 December 2021
- 9 min read
5 Nurses Advice For Coping With The Loss Of A PatientSubscribe To Advice
We asked some of our contributors to give their advice for coping with the loss of a patient, as it’s important to reach out for help, if you need it.
Today we're discussing a really important topic which is quite close to my heart and it's all about coping with the loss of your patient. When I worked at my very first care home for the elderly, it was a fantastic home. I fell in love with every single one of the residents and there was this one person in particular, I would care for her every single day over the next few months and however, unfortunately, she sort of deteriorated quite quickly and she'd become quite unwell.
So it was more of an expected death in a way. So we were all prepared for it and then when she did die, nobody had told me that they hadn't removed the body from the room or anything like that and I went on shift on the day and I just assumed that it had all been dealt with and it was okay and someone said, "Oh, can you just go up to the room, give the room clean and things like that." And I said, "Yeah, yeah, no problem." And then to my shock, when I opened the door and she was still in the bed, I ran, I thought I was seeing a ghost, it really did scare me.
So I ran and I spoke to the team and I was like, "Is she still there?" I didn't know what was happening. No one had warned me. No one had told me and I think that was the shock factor of that part. However, someone said to me, "Okay, let's go in together and let's deal with this together." And you know what? Just having that person go in with me and help me through that was a massive, massive help.
As a student nurse, I had a couple of patients who came into hospital healthy. They weren't expecting to die, there was no warning and they just suddenly went and that's the deaths that I can't deal with, I can't deal with that because I'm an over-thinker and I think about the family, I think about, I've just seen that patient like the morning before and they're okay, what's happened?
That for me is the hardest to deal with and there's been a number of times where I've had that happen on shift and I've composed myself and I've been there for the family and I've done okay and as soon as I've walked through those doors to go home, I just broke down and I just cried all the way home just to let it out because it was just so sad but what I did and something that might help you maybe is I wrote a reflection on it and I read through the reflection and I sat with my mentor at the time.
It's not just about looking after them and looking after the families, actually, you have to be okay as well because it is tough. It can have a really bad negative effect on your mental health. So it's really important that you get the support and just make sure you're okay. So my main pickups from this video is, get support, make sure you have a debrief and always remember it's okay not to be okay. Don't suffer in silence and talk about your feelings.
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Every death is different and as you progress throughout your nursing career, although it might be something that you are able to cope with and manage better, never just see it as part and parcel of nursing. Remember that you should always show compassion. You should always show empathy and never lose that desire to get it right.
If you are a student or you're a newly qualified nurse or even if you are a nurse who has been way within their career and you haven't been exposed to death within professional settings, I would advise that if that opportunity arises and you feel comfortable to do so, I would put yourself forward to be a part of this sort of difficult situation. The last thing that you would want is to have to deal with this sort of situation and be completely unprepared and sometimes that does happen.
So if an opportunity arises where, you know, something like death is preempted and it's something that people know is going to happen, see if you can be a part of some sort of the process, whether it's the before, the afterwards because it will really just help you to hone in on your skills and it will really just take a lot of pressure off when situations like that happen out of the blue as well. Of course, nothing can prepare you for dealing with a dying patient but there are some steps that you can take to prepare you in advance.
Just know that you did your best and that can be really, really difficult to process and in a situation like this where the outcomes aren't favourable, it's hard to feel like you did your best but it's really important to give yourself some grace and to know that you did your best with whatever circumstance you were in and to just remember that every single situation that you are in is only gonna make you a better nurse and that you're gonna be able to learn something and apply that when the next situation occurs.
When in contact with the same patients for a couple of months seeing them on and off but sometimes patients come back to the hospital because maybe they have relapsed or they have developed some infections or they have any complication. If the situation get worse and the patient eventually get very sick, it's normal for us to worry and empathise with the patients. In my case, in haematology, the situation is so hard.
As you can see, we get to know the patients. We know what's going on with their lives, what are their worries, we know their families, et cetera. At that point, any nurse that look after patients for such a long time, starts caring quite a lot about that person. If eventually this person passed away, it's normal to think sad and you feel the loss very deeply.
Of course, every nurse and situation is unique and there's no universal approach to dealing with death. Each of us has to take time to reflect and process the experience in our own way. For me, speaking with a counsellor has always helped me. You know, being able to speak my own story and sharing my feelings help me to acknowledge death.
I think we must practice self care and take care of ourself and basically heal as we can, as we must be fully present for the patients in the hospital but we must remember that we have a life outside the hospital and we need to carry on.
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When you're dealing with a situation like the loss of a patient, we'll experience a range of emotions. We might be upset. We might be sad. We might be angry at the situation, especially if it's a younger patient who sadly passed away. So no matter how you're feeling, it's important for you to reach out to your colleagues.
A lot of people have dealt with this situation and we understand how difficult it is. So my main piece of advice is, before you leave that shift, speak to either the health care support workers, the nurses, your ward manager, just reach out to them. Don't be embarrassed, don't be nervous, just reach out to them and say, "Look, I'm really struggling with how I feel at the moment." And just talk it through with them and I find that really does help the situation and to have that bit of a debrief before you go home.
It's important to talk, debrief, get your feelings out, try not to take it home with you if you can and just use your teammates as support, support each other in such a time. It's not necessarily something that we're taught about when we're in nursing school or we're at university, until it actually happens. It can be an emotional thing, especially if it happens on shift or for example, you know, you could have been off one day and then you've come back and you've learned that a patient that you built a quite close bond with, you know, has passed away.
I think people view us as, you know, we just have to carry on with the shift. No, you don't. You're allowed to pause and take some time out and talk about how you're feeling, debrief, you can cry if you need to, you know, pull yourself back together and come back and shift again, that is allowed. We are only human. Another thing that I would advise is to seek your trusts or work sort of counselling or wellbeing services to talk about grief and bereavement because it can affect us and impact us too, you know? If not, you know, seek your GP, your GP can also refer you to counselling services.