Thursday, January 24, 2008

Shell Shocked

For death begins with life's first breath And life begins at touch of death. ~ John Oxenham

My patient died a few nights ago. It was the most bizarre experience ever. I had just been in his room, taking his blood pressure (which was fine), drawing his AM labs and talking to him. I walked him to the bathroom and back, then tucked him in his bed, got him a warm blanket and said goodnight.

I went into my next patient's room to hook up his antibiotics. The Monitor tech calls me and tells me my other patient has a junctional rhythm. I rush in there and he's pale and unresponsive, his head crooked over to the side, his dentures halfway out of his mouth. I instantly freaked and started shaking him, then hit the code button (even though he was DNR). I told the other nurses that he was DNR with chemical intervention but his heart had stopped beating and he wasn't even breathing. The doctor pronounced him at a few minutes after 3am.

How can someone be talking to you and then dead the next minute? He was old, in his 80s and had COPD...beyond that, he should have been fine. The family is not going to do an autopsy, so I'll never know what happened but always have questions.

This isn't the first time that my patient died, it's just the first time that it was so unexpected and random. I was the last person that he saw before he passed. I was the last person he spoke to. I'm still shell shocked. The nurses on the unit accepted it cynically, and almost without empathy. I'm dealing with hella emotions at this point, feeling that if I had stayed in the room for just a few more minutes I could have helped him live.

The next night I had a patient in the SAME ROOM. Unfortunately he didn't get much sleep that night because I kept going in to make sure he was still alive. I checked on him almost religiously, freakishly paranoid that this old 80 year old would die on me too.

How do nurses deal with all these emotions? I don't know what to do.


Jaycee said...

Ecclesiastes 3...there is time for everything, a time to be born and a time to die...

Death is not a easy phenomenon to handle, but esp when u're in the medical field...never ever ever blame urself for anything. It was his time and God allowed it to happen. Hope u're feeling a little bit better now.

Daydah said...

It's not your fault he died when he did. In fact, maybe he was waiting to see you and talk to you before leaving.
my mum's mother travelled all the way from ibadan to lagos, and waited five days to see me. She waited until i had come hom after exams and she had touched my face before slumping...she had been sick weeks earlier but soon got better. It was the minute afer she touched my face that she just sat and slumped. just like that. So look at the situation this way, ok?

And as a nurse, you must look at each patient with love, never get cynical like those other nurses. Pray for them - spanish, Italian, Black, white, old, young, just pray for them. if they die, pray for their families. Never get cynical