Nothing can prepare you for death. No amount of studying, no book, no lecture...nothing...can prepare you for how it feels to lose someone that you have cared for, for months.
I knew that eventually I would have my first death on my shift. I have come close, numerous times, to losing someone under my care. Residents that come in on hospice, that we expect to go at anytime...their death I could have dealt with well. I have comforted their families and I have cried with their families...not because I was close to this person, but because the look in their spouse's or children's eyes is all too familiar.
Yesterday was different. Yesterday was a resident I felt an attachment to. I knew this resident and I knew the family. I knew the tough decisions to be made and the struggles. I knew how this resident felt and I hated watching the process. Once decisions were made, I knew I wanted to be there. I had to be there. For the resident and for the family. I knew, that under my care, this resident would be at peace and comfortable. I knew the family would have all their needs met, while they spent the last few hours together. I'm sure any other nurse would have done the same thing, but I felt a sort of ownership of this situation and I wanted to be the one doing it all.
Nothing can prepare you for the range of emotions that you feel, as the nurse. Nothing can prepare you, when you realize today is different than previous days and that today...your interventions are not going to work. Nothing can prepare you for the realization that the last time you said good morning to someone, would be the last time that they would respond. Nothing can prepare you for the call, notifying family that they need to come. Now. Nothing can prepare you for the hard conversations.
Nothing can prepare you for how you can change, in an instance. Suddenly, you know exactly what to do. You know exactly what to say. You know how to comfort someone, watching their loved one go through the dying process. You know how to explain, at their level, that everything they are seeing, is expected. You know how to reassure them that there is no pain. You know how to gently tell them that they don't need to be scared. You know how to involve them, gauged to their comfort, with the last few hours of cares. You know how to be confident, allowing them to lean on you. You know how to tuck away your own fears and insecurities and feelings...so that all involved are receiving the best.
Nothing can prepare you for the moment that life eases out. For the bated breath that everyone in the room will have, as you place your stethoscope on someone's chest and where the rhythmic sound of life should be...there is silence. Nothing can prepare you for having to look their loved one in the eyes and gently shake your head. Nothing.
Nothing can prepare you for your own good-bye, after the family has gone. For a few stolen seconds, to stand in the fading sunlight through their window, hold their hand and silently thank them for letting you care for them. For allowing you to be present at their most intimate times.
Nothing can prepare you for the flood of emotions. Sadness. Peace. Gratitude. Love. Nothing can prepare you for the way that a death can...in an instant...make you feel so alive.