I have been an ICU nurse for over a year now and have noticed some changes in myself since transitioning from the PCU to the ICU level of care. Every day in an ICU setting we see more death and watch more families as they cope with dying loved ones. I am not saying this doesn’t happen in other areas, however, in an ICU setting you are more apt to see it happen.
I was a nurse for four years before moving to ICU. In my four years I had only had one patient die, and to be honest, they died on the previous shift. By the time I arrived for my shift they were waiting on family to say good byes before sending the patient to the morgue.
In the last year I have lost count of the number of patient deaths, which is most likely healthy coping, and not because the number is so large. There are some days that are so awesome in the ICU, we get to see some really amazing recoveries, but the bad days can be very bad. Over time you become somewhat desensitized to situations and notice that your comments become more callous.
I love being a nurse, I love taking care of people, I love the joy of knowing that everyday I am blessed with the opportunity to help a stranger get better. However, on those days you about Honestly, it doesn’t get easier, you get stronger.
Any time a nurse is taking care of a patient whose family has to let go of, it is going to be a rough day. It may be an easy med day or nursing assessment day, but it’s sure to be one of the most emotionally draining days. Walking into a room and seeing family saying goodbye to a loved one feels like you are a stranger intruding into one their most precious and private moments.
In a way, having that time is a gift to the family, yet it is so hard to know what to say to ease their pain. You can be taught therapeutic communication all day long. However, at times you’d just like to be blunt and say “You know what, this sucks and I don’t understand why they have to die either, they were so young.”… yet we can’t. So we offer apologies, sympathy and empathy, and resources such as chaplains. Nevertheless, in the end there is nothing we can say that will make it okay.
There have been two times when family members have hugged me after losing their loved one. I realize at that time, for whatever reason, the small act of a hug just helps them (and it helps me too).
We are truly blessed to be able to spend our time helping those in need, and sometimes they may actually help us without even knowing it. Patients and families are constant reminders of how beautiful life can be and how every day is a blessing, not a guarantee.
So we are reminded to love our loved ones, not to let petty arguments come between us, and treat everyone we meet with love and respect. You never know what fight they are fighting.
Have your wishes known to your loved ones, so when your time comes they aren’t left to make a terribly hard decision.
Just realize that as healthcare professionals we are blessed. Yes… we have bad days and Yes… we deal with code browns, but we also have something others don’t. We have the joy of knowing we are making a difference every time we’re at work!