It doesn’t get easier to hold someone’s hand as they’re leaving this earth. It doesn’t get easier to tell their family the truth when they ask if they’ll be okay.
But those are the obvious ones. Just recently I had an experience that was anything but easy, and I could have never prepared myself for it.
I was taking care of a young woman in the emergency department who had recently delivered twin boys. She was in the emergency department because she was still having several complications.
The woman talked about her boys. She told me their names and how much they weighed. She then told me they died an hour after birth.
This heartbroken woman’s eyes glistened with tears as she asked if I would like to see a picture of them. She told me how she was proud of them, how she wanted the world to know about them and how she didn’t want them forgotten. I told her it would be an honor if she wanted to share them with me.
As a sometimes jaded, experienced emergency nurse, I’m used to seeing trauma and death. I’m used to seeing the beginning and end of life and everything in between. I’ve pushed my own emotions down time and time again and kept my game face on. But this night was the closest I’ve come to crying with a patient.
I knew my tears weren’t what this woman needed from me. She needed kindness, respect and to know that someone else cared about her children. She needed to know she wasn’t alone, and she needed someone to listen. Her experience at another hospital when she gave birth was less than comforting, and she needed a medical professional to–for once–be gentle, understanding and kind.
When the woman left to be transferred to another hospital for admission, her mother thanked me for my kindness. I remember thinking how sad it was that she felt the need to thank me for something as fundamental as kindness.
So no, it doesn’t get easier. It will never be easy to deal with death, mortality and sometimes the prolonged act of living. It will never feel okay to mourn with patients and their families or to accept the fact that there is nothing else you can do; but it’s what we do. We provide comfort when there isn’t any. We provide dignity when it’s being lost. We provide kindness to those who haven’t experienced any for years.
Being a nurse isn’t easy, but what we do matters. It may not provide instant gratification and there is certainly no commission for kindness, but what we do makes a difference.
Your friendly neighborhood ER nurse.