Losing a Patient

I write this post with humility.

After returning from a 3-week vacation, I was a bit nervous about how much work waited for me (lab/imaging results to review, medication refills, phone messages etc). Surprisingly, my first day back went pretty smoothly. My schedule wasn’t too crazy. My co-workers were ecstatic to see me, and my patients were relieved that I was back.

At the end of the day I was skimming through hundreds of work emails, deleting most, keeping the important ones. I came across some emails about one of my patients being in the hospital for a heart attack. I wrote down his name on my to-do list, so that I could give him a call and see how he was doing.

As I continued going over my emails, I was in disbelief when I read “patient expired. Sorry for your loss.” It turns out that the patient that had a heart attack in the hospital was discharged home a few days later in stable condition. The following day he passed away at home. It was a complex situation, as he had a history of severe coronary artery disease and other co-morbidities. Even though you know all that could have been done, was done for him, you still feel like it wasn’t enough.

I immediately started crying like crazy, as I had never cried before. He was actually one of my favorite patients, and one of the first patients I developed a relationship with at my clinic. A very pleasant man and compliant with all medical recommendations. During the 6 months of working at this clinic, I had seen him at least 10 times.

My co-workers tried to comfort me, explaining that all of our patients are much older and much more sick than the average person. They tried to reassure me that at least he is no longer in pain and was able to pass away in the comfort of his home.

It was so hard for me because I had seen him right before I went on my trip, not knowing it would be the last time. I had also wished I was here when he passed so that I could have at least attended his funeral.

The following day I was still grieving and wasn’t sure how I was going to face my other patients. I thought to myself, what is the point of all this? I had a busy day and it was actually a good thing. It distracted me and also reminded me that there were still other patients that needed me.

It has been so hard for me because I have never had anyone close to me pass away before. Although I also worked with a geriatric population in Miami for several years, none of my patients ever died while under my care. They didn’t seem to be as sick as my current patients. As a child I had distant relatives pass away, but death seemed so foreign as a kid.

The other providers told me that the first few patients they lost were really hard. But after a while, you have to learn to become less emotionally invested. I think the passing of my patient reminded me how near, death truly is. Death is inevitable. I realize I cannot promise my patients that they will never die. But I can help them to live a comfortable life and gain more time to spend with their loved ones.

May he rest in peace.

3 thoughts on “Losing a Patient

  1. Sending hugs from afar. Thank you for sharing this, and for being so transparent about the feelings you had surrounding the sudden death of the patient you grew to adore. It’s tough, and as a fellow FNP I completly empathize with you. Author Mitch Albom from the book Tuesdays with Morrie said, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” Cherish the relationship the two of you developed over the course of your time together. His passing will not change that. Continue to channel that same compassion you had for him with the present and future patient’s under your care. And take care of yourself as you heal through this difficult time.

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