I have to admit that I was super apprehensive about making this career change. Death is something that scares the bejeezus out of me. As a critical care nurse for many years, death was often times an answer to endless suffering. That doesn’t ever mean that I got comfortable with it. But, because I never wanted to add to a family’s emotion at that moment, made sure to try and keep my emotions in check when the time came. Now, that’s not to say that I have never shed a tear.
The unexpected deaths always got to me. There was a woman once, in her late 40s, wasn’t feeling great, came to the ER and turns out that she had a rare autoimmune disease that caused her to bleed out. She literally walked into the ER. On her own. Within 8 hours, she was no longer with us. The intensity of the situation is burned in my mind. Transported up to the ICU, her condition deteriorated by the second. It was almost like we were all running on pure adrenaline. Some of us were trying to get more IVs in her, while others were cleaning up the blood that just poured out of her body. In a desperate final attempt to try and save her, there were two of us doing cpr, while blood was pumped into her. Her mom was called to come in and watching her try and comfort her dying daughter caused just about all of us to break down. There wasn’t a person that was not effected by that scene. Afterwards, it was as if we all went from feeling numb to being so exhausted as we had just run an emotional marathon. Are nurses supposed to cry? Does crying make us weak or does it humanize us?
See, that is the crux of my problem with hospice. If I am called for an imminent death, will I cry as the family says their final goodbyes? People sometimes feel somewhat relieved when the nurse cries. Sure, we comfort. But, when the end is near, our only concern is the comfort of the patient and family. That checklist of things that normally dances through our minds when we are in save mode is gone. It is almost as if we rediscover our emotions because we actually have a second to really feel. Nurses are thought to be the humanizing element of medicine. If that is true, then as humans, we feel. Fear, joy, pain, loss, confusion and sometimes relief all accompany a death. More often than not, we are not immune to those feelings. It can be argued that what we feel are magnified feelings. No one ever said nursing was easy.
My view? It’s ok to cry. That being said, don’t become a sobbing mess in front of the family. We become attached, we care and we get involved on the most intimate of levels. Let it out, but maintain composure. When you are finished, find a positive way of releasing all of those feelings. Whatever it is that you do to let those emotions out, do it. You have to. Eventually, that emotional roller coaster that is felt will start to take its toll on you. It would be foolish to think that the human element does not feel. Those feelings and emotions do not make you weak. Arguably, those are the things that make nursing the remarkably strong vocation that it is.