As nurses, we’ve seen it all, and when I say “all”, I literally mean ALL. From blood to bile, to broken bones and open wounds, we’re used to the gore that comes along with our beloved career choice. We go home, shower the day off, throw our scrubs in the wash, and continue on with our evening. It was just another day.
Then there are the bad days; the days when you are forced to look death right in the face, in the form of one of your patients. Depending on where you work (i.e. the ICU vs. an outpatient center or family practice), these days may be few and far between, but that doesn’t make them any easier.
Because you work in health care, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll come across the unfortunate death of a beloved patient. It’s OK to mourn, and it’s OK to be upset. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help lessen the blow, and try to move on.
Here are four tips for handling heartbreak in the medical field:
Talk to your coworkers. Your coworkers have probably experienced something similar, and they may have even experienced this particular death with you. Vent to them, cry, and even talk about how it wasn’t fair. Talking to people that have been through the same experience as you is a great way to cope, and they may even offer advice on how to get over this unfortunate event.
Don’t force yourself to not feel. After all, you’re only human. It’s OK to cry, and it’s normal to feel sad for this patient, their family and even yourself. You’ll come across people that will tell you to “suck it up” or “move on”, and it’s important to remember that everyone handles death differently, and “sucking it up” isn’t exactly your preferred method of coping.
Don’t quit. Sometimes it’s tempting, especially after seeing a particularly gruesome injury, or the diagnosis of an unexpected terminal illness. Remember why you got involved in the healthcare field to begin with – one of your reasons was probably that you wanted to help people. Odds are, you did help your patient… a lot, despite their passing.
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Sound a little extreme? Well, every now and then you might come across a patient death that is hard to get out of your mind, and seeing someone who is professionally trained to help people in this area is a great idea. Some hospitals will even provide a therapist for staff that has been through a particularly traumatizing event.
As a healthcare professional, it’s crucial to remember that death is inevitable. Although at times it’s unexpected, which makes some of the worst feelings surface, death happens. And, while it may be easy to be consumed with feelings of remorse and questions asking “why” or “what if”, always rest assured that you did the best that you could to provide peace and comfort for patients during their final moments.