July 7, 2008, 12:06 pm

It Don’t Come Easy

Every now and then I need to stop and remember why I stay in nursing.

I knew Johnson and Johnson had a “Discover Nursing” campaign, I just didn’t know how active it still was.

Until I saw a commercial on CNN. About nursing. About becoming a nurse. I revisited the “Discover Nursing” website and was surprised to see an amazingly comprehensive, informative nursing site.

This company means business.

I also found free stuff! Free posters and brochures on becoming a nurse, in English and Spanish. I ordered some to put up in the ER and some brochures for the waiting room. I intend to carry some with me and hand them out whenever I can.

Check out the website, get some posters and brochures and be a part of recruiting our future colleagues.

Disclosure: Johnson and Johnson has graciously paid my registration for this month’s BlogHer08 convention in San Francisco. This post (unsolicited, btw) is my way of thanking them and hopefully giving back a small part of what they have given to nursing in general.

And today, me in particular.

Because sometimes I need to be reminded why I am still a nurse.


It used to be easier, dealing with death.

Oh, occasionally a particularly devastating case would get to me, but I worked codes with professional detachment and took care of the surviving family members with compassion and professionalism.

It used to be easy.

It’s not so easy anymore.


I knew you for a little over an hour, and the minute I saw you I knew you were dying. War had been raging inside your body for over three years; you met every battle with determination.

The enemy was pernicious. Malevolent. This particular enemy always is. Silent until its damage is irreparable, it was now ready to end its rampage.

I knew it. And so did you. In the few words we exchanged, you told me you were ready to “turn the page”; you were so exhausted.

Bone weary. Exhaustion so deep that you didn’t have the energy to even want to fight anymore.

I gave you my hand. You gave it a squeeze.

Peace was at hand.

Twenty minutes later you were gone.


As I watched your monitor slowly dissolve into that undulating line of asystole, my throat tightened and my eyes burned. I made sure your family members were comfortable and I went to the nurses station to do the required paperwork. That infernal, damned paperwork.

You had just died, but God forbid that I do anything but the required paperwork. It was the most important aspect of the night.

Not the fact that I was ready to cry. I made it to the bathroom, but that made it worse so I swallowed hard, came back out and talked to your doctor, the coroner and the donor network, finished your chart and sent you to our “refrigeration unit”. That’s what the transplant coordinator called it. Guess “morgue” is no longer PC.

I didn’t even know you.

But two hours later I was crying for you on my way home from work.


Why is dealing with death becoming so much harder? As a young nurse, it was what I did.

It was also something that happened to other people.

Is it my age that makes me more aware of my own mortality, making death that much harder to deal with?

Is it that I have now buried my parents-in-law, my father, three grandparents, an uncle, an aunt and two brothers-in-law, the last four within the last 18 months?

Is it because I know the feeling of the shock that sets in immediately following the split second of disbelief or the depth of the sadness that precedes the seemingly endless, painful ache?


I’m not sure what it is, but the more I experience death, the more it affects me and the harder it is to control my emotions.

I wondered if maybe it was time for me to get out of this line of nursing, that maybe I had lost the ability to detach enough to remain the impartial professional.

Then I realized, after all these years I should be thankful that I can still feel for my patients and grieve their loss.

When I stop feeling for my patients, that would be the time I would need to explore another avenue of nursing.

As for now, I’ll stay right where I am.


  • ernurse

    July 7, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you for another wonderful post. It’s an interesting coincidence because I just recently lost a patient for the first time in my career. An hour later I lost a second one. I have been part of ER deaths since I started working and even wrote about one of the deaths, but this particularly affected me because these were my patients. I felt it for a few days, I still do. And I hope I never stop feeling, and still being able to go back the next day and keep working.

    Your post has been a great affirmation. Thanks.

  • NPs Save Lives
    NPs Save Lives

    July 7, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    I absolutely agree with you. The minute I stop giving a crap, that’s when I will stop working. I still get angry over some deaths that I’ve witnessed over the years. Some were unnecessary and some were blessings in disguise, but all are hard for me. I think that you may have hit the nail on the head regarding our own mortality making it more difficult.

  • Nurse Nickie
    Nurse Nickie

    July 7, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    Thank you very much for your very honest post. I’m still a student and so far I have not lost a patient, but I know that it is innevitable, particularly because I want to work in the ER.

    Thanks again – I love reading your blog.

  • beastarzmom@yahoo.com

    July 7, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    You did it again – brought one of my vivid nursing memories back in full Kodachrome. I keep wondering why the deaths seem to be so much closer to the surface than all the successful patient stories… even 30 years later, there is a hollow area in the pit of my stomach at the memory. But there it is. The bottom line is the caring. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • marachne

    July 8, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I think age does have a factor in things. I mean, I deal with death all the time doing hospice and palliative care, but when I start reading a chart before seeing a patient and I see an age of mid-40’s to mid-50’s, it hits me in a very different way — that could so be ME. May seem vain and self-centered, but even us death folks need to be reminded of our inevitable mortality sometimes

  • Strong One
    Strong One

    July 9, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    I ‘discovered’ J&J’s site a couple years back. I actually ordered media from the website. You can get some great posters, pins, DVD’s, etc. They do mean business… and I hope it makes the difference.

  • Jeff

    July 12, 2008 at 9:19 am

    This is such an important campaign, thanks for giving it some more attention.

  • Mary Lu
    Mary Lu

    July 16, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    Hey Kimmie,

    “I wondered if maybe it was time for me to get out of this line of nursing, that maybe I had lost the ability to detach enough to remain the impartial professional… When I stop feeling for my patients, that would be the time I would need to explore another avenue of nursing.”

    Give yourself a break Kim, you’re a human being. Detachment is one thing. Caring is another. They are the Yin and Yang of any healthcare professionals psyche.

    The reality check is I’m personally damn glad there are nurses and doctors out there who really do care about their patients. Not just that patient in bed #3– Or the kid with XYZ problem “over there.” But a living breathing human being with a name, who is about to leave this world. Many times patients die as a result of circumstances and from situations where they are alone and removed from their loved ones. It is the care and loving compassion of their nurses and doctors who make that passing easier.

    A few years ago we got one of “those calls” in the middle of the night that Dr. D’s dad was not going to make it– and there was no way in hell we could get from home to the hospital in time. The one promise I made the Cardiologist give me is that HE would stay with him, so Dad would not die alone.

    When we arrived the head RN pulled me aside and told me, the Doctor had stayed, held Dad’s hand and prayed until he passed. Then he cried like baby.

    This Doctor is our Cardiologist now and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Finding a caring professional these days is hard to find.

    Mary Lu

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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