This Is The Hardest Thing To Talk About In Nursing…
Today’s topic is a vulnerable and sensitive one. We’re talking about something that often gets overlooked:
Death and PTSD in Nursing
If you’ve experienced a recent loss, I’m sending you love and letting you know that this may not be the right time for you to read this blog.
Nurses Know Death Better Than Anyone
Over my career, I’ve cared for dozens of patients who died.
This includes infants, the elderly, and everyone in between. Some died from natural causes, and some were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The fragility of life is something that every nurse knows well because we’ve seen over and over again how death can take everything away in an instant.
It’s been about 4 years since I’ve worked at the bedside, and fortunately, it’s also been that long since I’ve seen someone die.
Yet during a meditation the other day, I closed my eyes and suddenly something I’ve never experienced came over me.
Every patient I’ve ever helped transition to death was immediately present in my mind.
I could feel them. See their faces. Hear their voices.
It was an intense experience, to say the least.
And I’m guessing that if you’re a nurse like me, you’ve seen someone die. And if you haven’t, you’ve heard stories of those who have.
In fact, right now, some of our colleagues are experiencing death on an unprecedented scale. At the time of this writing, COVID-19 was one of the leading causes of death in the US.
And because of that, so many of those who are dying are being forced to die alone. Without family. Without loved ones. And perhaps only the gloved hand of a nurse to hold.
But here’s the kicker…
We Nurses Rarely Talk About It
And too often, we don’t receive the personal or professional support we need to move through it in a healthy way.
You see, when I left bedside nursing and began doing my own inner work as a Nurse Coach, I realized a glaring fact:
Not once had I ever been offered professional space to grieve after a patient’s death. Dozens of hospitals. Dozens of deaths. Zero professional support in 7 years.
I was angry at my profession. I realized that the best support I ever got was some mediocre pizza from management, or maybe some beers with a friend after my shift.
And I don’t say all of this to paint a picture of a broken nurse. I’ve already done an enormous amount of healing since becoming a Nurse Coach.
I say all of this because…
This Is The Norm In Our Profession
We have normalized the daily pain we experience to the point that we are viewed as weak if we ask for help.
The grief we experience is enormous, and the walls we build to protect ourselves are strong. But we are not impenetrable. Nor should we be.
My friends, whether it’s the death we experience in our jobs or something else, here’s the reality:
⅓ of nurses experience symptoms of PTSD directly related to their work. And I’ll bet that number is vastly underreported, especially right now.
So, when you feel that heartache, frustration, or numbness that every nurse knows – you’re not crazy. The system we work in is.
Pizza, candy, and beers don’t cut it as professional support. The harrowing conditions we’re exposed to are enough to break down the hardiest of souls.
So today, I’m opening up the floor to talk about it. Enough is enough. We’re not going to complain about subpar managerial support. Instead, we’ll learn where we can support each other. And we’ll let each other know that it’s okay to talk about it. It doesn’t make you weak or less of a nurse to feel pain and loss.
Let’s Build Resilience Together
… and change the conversation around dealing with death in our profession.
Now, something that is unique to us nurses is that no matter how intense of an experience I share with you, someone will one-up it. There’s always a crazier work story out there.
So without sharing stories and one-upping each other, I want you to think back to the most painful moment you’ve experienced in your role as a nurse. It could be death. Or it could be getting assaulted, being verbally accosted, or anything else.
As you think back to that moment, what advice do you most need to hear?
For me, what I most need to hear is this:
It’s okay to feel pain and loss from my work. It’s okay to be mad at my profession for not taking care of me. It’s okay to spend time on my own healing so that I can continue to serve as a Nurse Coach.
So let’s hear yours.
What’s the one thing you most need to hear?