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Everybody Dies

October 4th, 2010 by – Marijke Durning

There are two certain things we’re not supposed to talk about at parties and social gatherings: politics and religion. After all, these are issues that people can be quite passionate about, possibly causing the discussion to go from friendly to loud and angry in a matter of moments. But there’s another topic we don’t like to talk about, as if it is a mutual agreement: death.

As nurses, we see death constantly. Even in the happier areas of nursing, such as labor and delivery, there are situations when people die. Of course, some nurses see it much more than others and some see traumatic deaths (emergency, for example) while others see expected and even peaceful deaths, such as in palliative or hospice care. But there’s no escaping it. Everyone dies.

When student nurses begin their clinical rotations, if they’ve never experienced death before, the idea of it can be frightening. Seeing a dead body for the first time isn’t something you can usually prepare yourself for – particularly if it was a sudden death and the medical team did what they could to prevent it. Emotions can be difficult to control, so this isn’t an unusual situation.

So how can student nurses and those nurses without a lot of experience with death become comfortable with it? Unfortunately, there’s no easy way. The only way is by learning as much as you can about the death process, knowing what to expect, and experiencing it by having seeing the process as it unfolds.

The one thing to remember is that death is not a failure. Unfortunately, too many health care professionals do see a patient’s death as a failure. However, if a patient’s body is no longer able to keep him alive, this is not a failure of the doctors and nurses. This is nature taking its course.

When someone looks at death as a failure, then this is upsetting to them and often those around them. When someone sees death as a natural, inevitable part of life that happens when it’s time, then the deaths need not be as disturbing.

If you’re afraid of confronting death, of patients who die, maybe you could sit down and examine how you feel about death and dying. This may explain a lot about your reactions.

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Posted in On-the-Job Fears

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