It was a night of death. My supervisor said if the patient’s allowed to die then there’s no reason I can’t take an admission, putting my patient census up to seven under my care. She said people die, we don’t save them all – we can’t. She said this patient’s in a better place dying than to lie there suffering. She said “she’s 96, she’s lived a full life.”
But I said, “I’m a nurse, if I can’t save them then I should be able to show them the respect they deserve at the end of their life.” I may not bring healing solution but I should be able to give my comforting presence during their last moments on earth. I said, “I’m not that nurse that isn’t affected by my patient’s death even if I’ve only met them a short time ago.”
And if my emotions are due to me being a new nurse, like the supervisor said, then I don’t want to leave the bracket of “new nurse”. I said my emotions, though not hindering my duties, are valid because this patient – she’s somebody’s companion of 50 years, somebody’s mother, sweet grandmother and great-grandmother. She’s not some shell of a body lying on a bed struggling to breath and losing touch with reality – she’s somebody’s loved one – she’s each of us or our loved ones at some point in time.
The supervisor seemed to think I should just take this death in stride and carry on with adding patients to my care. But I was already short changing my other patients and I hadn’t even had time to collect my thoughts after my first patient to die under my care had drawn his last breath a few hours ago. A voice inside me taunted, trying to make me believe that I’m too sensitive and I should be able to do my job unaffected by death.
But I want to be that nurse that is hurting with the patient, with the family. I want to be that nurse that’s not afraid to stand with the family and shed tears in silence acknowledging the hurt, the loss, the grief. I want to care enough to hug the family and tell them I’m so sorry. I want to be able to hold the hand of the dying when they have no one who cares enough to be there with them in their last moments. I don’t want my patient on comfort care and a morphine drip whose breathing is getting increasingly worse to have to die feeling all alone because I had to abandon them in their last moments because I’ve been given too many patients to be able to be provide full compassionate care.
When nurses cry, they cry because they are human. They are not some kind of superhero incapable of feeling emotional fatigue. They have loved ones too and most likely they have seen their loved ones reach the end of their life here on earth. When nurses cry, they cry because each patient is a personal investment claiming a piece of their nurse’s emotions, thoughts, and heart. When nurses cry, they shed tears for many more patients and families than the current one. When nurses cry, they cry for humankind; they cry for the brokenness they see every hour of every shift; they cry for the sadness they carry home at the end of each shift because there’s so many hurting people they come in contact with. When nurses cry, they don’t become less of a professional. When nurses cry, they loom larger than life and become the heart of nursing worldwide.