Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some goodbyes are forever

Sometimes people get the impression that nurses (and others whose work brings them in frequent contact with illness or trauma) get hardened to death, or immune to the sadness it brings. And I just don't think that's true. A nurse can get used to the possibility of death. When prepared, a nurse can assist a patient or family during the dying process, support the grief of the loved ones, and respectfully care for the body of the deceased person.

But not without grief, seen or unseen.

I no longer work in clinical care areas as a clinician; my work as a case manager requires different nursing skills. I'm not the one who starts the IV or inserts the foley. I'm the one standing by with the parents and siblings while the clinicians work. I'm the one who sees them at home, goes with them to the doctor visits, and visits their child at school. I'm invited along on their journey through the complicated and confusing American healthcare system, and I come to know some of them very, very well.

So it's not without grief and a sorrow too potent to explain that I tell you I lost a little client today. She died suddenly, at home: Mom said she just stopped breathing. This was one little feisty baby, let me tell you. When I shut my eyes, I can see her laughing. She has just learned to say, "bah-bah-bah". She liked to blow raspberries. When she smiled, her eyes crinkled shut. When they told me she had died, I just put my head on my desk and cried. Hard.

Who knows why some die early and some live long lives? Not me; I don't know the answers to any big questions like that, and especially not today. I only know I'll miss this baby; this particular, charming, feisty, amusing little complicated human being. I'll carry on; this is not my own child and my grief is nothing compared to a parent's grief. I maintain perspective because I have many more clients and because I also have my own family to love and worry about. Life goes on.

But don't let anyone tell you nurses don't grieve.



Anonymous Moof said...

Mary, I'm sorry that you've lost a little one ... and I understand your grief.

I know that there really aren't any words that can make things better ...

But I still wanted to reach out through whatever I have - words - and give you a hug across the miles.

8:22 PM  
Blogger KC said...

I'm sorry Mary. I try to think about these things in geologic time where there is no real difference between 9 months and 90 years except for the quality of the time each of us gets. I hope your little client had her share of smiles and laughs and raspberries while she was here.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Oh Mary, I am so sorry for the loss of your baby patient/client.

Death has been a topic on many of the blogs this week.

The day I don't grieve a death is the day I stop nursing.

And you know so much more about the patients than we "bedside" nurses do. You see where they live, the dynamics of their families, the day-to-day struggles. Your patients are never objectified because they are "real" people to you. I think it makes it that much harder.

4:47 AM  
Blogger mary said...

Thanks everyone. I am still so sad, but today less than yesterday.

Moof, I think words do make things a little better. They are healing, in their way, both writing them and reading them.

KC: she did. She got more than her share of smiles and raspberries!!!

Kim, I think you're right, it affects all of us as nurses but when you have a long term relationship, it's different. Probably like you feel about some of your frequent fliers (the ones you don't mind seeing often, anyway!!).


6:56 PM  
Anonymous Michelle (caregiver of a disabled child) said...

i never once thought nurses or any other medical professionals could become immune to suffering and death. they are humans too, and humans feel. i wanted to be a nurse for awhile and i am extremely sensitive, and im sure i wouldnt have been the only one. i cant imagine what it must be like to lose a child u care for though. if i ever lost the boy i care for i think i would want to die. its hard when u get so attached. just be strong and hang in there and remember the good times, because youre right, life does go on even if it is hard sometimes. email me if u want broken_butterfly89@yahoo.com

8:54 PM  

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