A nurse friend once shared with me that she had a really tough day.
“I lost one of my patients,” she explained.
“I’m so sorry!” I replied. “What happened?”
“I went out to get her meds and when I came back she was gone,” she said.
“Was she critical?” I questioned.
“Wait, no, I mean she got up and left the room and I couldn’t find her!” my friend clarified. “We found her down in the courtyard.”
After enjoying a good laugh, she began sharing about how challenging it can be to tend to a patient who eventually succumbs to death. The healthcare field offers innumerable opportunities to assist in the healing process, but there are times where nothing can be done. It is at these times that a professional nurse – or doctor – must apply the skills she or he has developed throughout their life to come to grips with such emotional loss. Here are a few suggestions:
- If you know you have difficulty with loss, but still want to be a nurse, explore specialty areas that have a lower mortality rate, such as allergy and asthma, dermatology, family practice, etc. and steer clear of critical care, oncology or emergency specialty areas.
- Take a class or go to a workshop on dealing with loss as a healthcare professional. See if your health system provides learning modules that address this. You will learn tips on how to be a compassionately detached caregiver.
- Share your feelings with your colleagues and ask for tips on how they handle loss.
- Focus on the positive. Many patients survive and thrive. Stay “stuck” on their outcomes not on those who didn’t make it.
- Remember the positive moments you shared with that patient and honor them by sharing them with others – or just recall them in your mind to help you smile.
- Learn from any mistakes that potentially contributed to the outcome and apply them to the next situation.
Do you have an example of how you have dealt with the loss of a patient? Please take a moment now to share your strength with your fellow nurses by commenting below.