I would like to start this article with a statement. Most of the time I say nurses, but many times what I am writing pertains to all direct care healthcare staff.
Anyway getting back to the topic. I was watching reruns of Grays Anatomy the other day which in addition to all of the drama in their love lives, many of the scenarios with patients are quite real. In this one, Dr Yang was by a bedside where the person, a young, black, strong looking man, was obviously dying and was unconscious and on life support. It showed her standing there and for a change greatly affected by this.
It got me to thinking of how many times I had been in this situation. In addition, most of the time there is a family involved–a family that is devastated by what is going on. There is just so much sadness. Imagine how many times this is multiplied when a child is in that bed. And, this is just one scenario, and it is everyday for a nurse. Staff that works in intensive care are constantly in this position. Probably both of the patients assigned to a nurse are dying or close to death. She may lose both of the patients one right after the other. Chances are she has been caring for that patient for days or weeks and has prayed and struggled to save that person’s life. The family is a basket case and relies heavily on the nurse for emotional support. In essence, the nurse has become very involved and attached to the patient and family. Of course she is sad if he does not make it and feels the sadness that the family feels. The next day she is assigned to a new patient that is in the same situation.
Last year a grandchild was suddenly severely injured in a freak accident at a friend’s house. He had brain surgery that night and was on a respirator and unconscious for a week. His mother sat at his bedside constantly, of course. One night she had to go to the bathroom and when she left his room she noticed that down the hall something was going on. Another child had coded and did not make it. Of course she was already in a very fragile state and when the nurse came in to her child’s room she asked the nurse through her own tears, how she can go through this day after day. The young nurse said that she gets through it by thinking about all of the children that they do save.
The question I started with was how much sadness can a nurse endure. I don’t have an answer for that. I guess the other question is what the mother asked and that was “how do you handle the sadness and tragedies you deal with every day of your life”. The nurse mentioned above said how she manages and every nurse has to find a way to do so. Nurses, also, have to know when they need a break and make sure that she gets that break. Hopefully the hospital where she works is sensitive to this and has ways to allow this to happen. The people that she lives with need to be aware of this, too, and give her some space and/or support when she needs it.