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  • 19 July 2017
  • 5 min read

How I deal with tragedy and sadness in my nursing job

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Deputy Intensive Care Charge Nurse

I couldn’t tell you the number of times people have told me how brave I am for being a nurse. The truth is, I am not brave. It’s my training and professionalism that people see in me.

Based on the life of Suzanne Armstrong.

To some extent, I have to detach myself from patients just to do my job properly.

It’s a professional skill that I’ve honed over the years. It’s not easy, and there are times when I struggle to keep up my professional veneer.

I’ve learnt many lessons and skills in twelve years as a senior Intensive Care Nurse; multi organ support, providing renal replacement therapy and supporting organs through overwhelming infection.

But the thing that’s really opened my eyes, is learning what bravery really means.

I may not be brave, but I know people who are.

I meet truly courageous people all the time.

They’re my patients, their relatives and friends.

Normal people coping with the worst situations imaginable, living nightmares in real time.

Hopefully many of us will never face the things these people go through. This is where true bravery resides.

A few years ago on a sleety Christmas Eve, I started an early shift with a heavy heart.

My patient, a woman roughly my age and background, was reaching the end of a brutally short battle with a horrendous brain condition. Final brain stem testing was scheduled and clinical decisions made.

The poor young woman was technically dead, even though her strong heart was still beating.

It’s such a horrific situation.

A loved one appears to be sleeping, but they will never wake.

At this point, with the shock of loss and grief still setting in, poor family members are faced with the hardest questions imaginable.

It takes real bravery and courage to face this moment and deal with the choices that must be made.

In cases such as this, organ donation are mentioned.

The brave husband of this poor patient manages to look beyond his own pain, and do something amazing for dozens of people he will never meet.

The choice is a devastating one to make, a reminder of the finality of death and comes at the hardest possible moment. I can’t imagine having to face that decision, or perhaps I just can’t bring myself to.

Towards the end of my shift, I go to theatre.

The patient’s husband patiently waits, showing a strength I don’t think I could muster.

Life support is removed and final goodbyes are said. The patient heads into theatre for organ donation, and we move into a nearby relative room.

Supporting relatives through times like these is as much my job as caring for the patients themselves.

I sit and talk to the patient’s husband. He starts to show me videos on his phone of his late wife playing with their young daughter. They look so happy and healthy playing and laughing together.

I don’t know if it was the similarities between the patient and myself, or just the fatigue of the day catching up with me, but I felt the lump of tears rising in my throat.

The wall of detachment was down, and it took every inch of strength I had to keep myself together.

I couldn’t lose it now. I had to stay strong for this man.

He had been braver today than I could ever dream of being.

My shift ended, I said my goodbyes and left to change out of my uniform. I could feel my tears and frustration building in me in waves.

I changed quickly without saying a word to anyone.

If anyone had spoken to me, I would have broken down. I held it together until the train home.

Full of last minute shoppers and rosy cheeked drinkers, I cried huge sobbing tears that felt like they would go on forever. I cleared the carriage around me, and felt so happy I was on my way home to spend Christmas with my own little girls.

Happy but guilty.

The next morning, watching my girls tear through wrapping paper, I couldn’t help but wonder about another family whose Christmas day will never be the same.

A Father having to explain the hardest news. I picture my own husband in the same situation, having to explain to our little girls that I was gone forever.

Tears fill my eyes again. I can’t imagine the courage needed to do such a thing.

The glimmer of hope from this tragedy is that through all this pain and suffering, a wonderful gift was given.

Dozens of people awoke that Christmas day with the present they wanted most, a chance at a new life.

Organ donation is something most of us don’t really think about, but I hope if you are ever faced with the choice you can find the courage to look past the pain, and offer the greatest gift you could ever give.

Life.

From Bears To Bandages: How I Became An A&E Nurse

About the author

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Deputy Intensive Care Charge Nurse

I worked as an Accident and Emergency Nurse at Blackpool Victoria for a decade. My time as an A&E nurse has shaped me into the person I am today, and I wouldn't change it for the world. It boosted my confidence and helped me build on skills which have fundamentally led me to my current position as the Deputy Intensive Care Charge Nurse at Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospitals. Nursing is a calling, not a job - it's why we do what we do.

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  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Deputy Intensive Care Charge Nurse

About the author

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Deputy Intensive Care Charge Nurse

I worked as an Accident and Emergency Nurse at Blackpool Victoria for a decade. My time as an A&E nurse has shaped me into the person I am today, and I wouldn't change it for the world. It boosted my confidence and helped me build on skills which have fundamentally led me to my current position as the Deputy Intensive Care Charge Nurse at Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospitals. Nursing is a calling, not a job - it's why we do what we do.