Clinical placements

Baby’s death was challenging but affirmed my decision to be a nurse

This story is about a baby and his journey from a neonatal unit to the children’s ward, to community care – and, sadly, to his death at three months old. It is also about my visit to his family after he died.

This story is about a baby and his journey from a neonatal unit to the children’s ward, to community care – and, sadly, to his death at three months old. It is also about my visit to his family after he died.

The baby had a severe life-limiting metabolic condition – patients with it do not usually live past 12 months. When life expectancy is so low, there is constant apprehension: ‘Will he die today?’ I don’t think anyone can prepare for this until there is no option but to deal with it. I knew it would not be any easier for the family to come to terms with the death of their child just because it was inevitable.

During the patient’s journey, I built a strong therapeutic relationship through family-centred care. I got to know all the family members well, which was important to me, especially because English was not their first language.

As a student at the end of my second year, I found it difficult to come to terms with the child’s death. His was the first death I had experienced but I learned a great deal from it and it brought me greater maturity.

Visiting the family after the baby died was particularly challenging and emotionally difficult.

I felt apprehensive about going with the palliative care nurse to a mosque because I had never been to one before and was unsure what to expect or how the family would react – but it was an experience I will never forget. What I felt that day, and feel still, is a complete mix of emotions. The best description I can offer is that the experience was overwhelming.

So much happened in such a short period that the importance of providing ongoing support at such a difficult time became clear to me, as did the fact that patient and family-centred care are paramount in good nursing.

I still would not say I feel confident or experienced to talk about the death of a child with a family, but does anyone? What I took away from a long and emotional day was affirmation of my choice to become a nurse – the opportunity to provide good knowledge and skills, but also to give comfort, care and support, not only at the best of times but also at the worst.

I find that every shift as a nursing student brings new learning opportunities, but this experience was by far the most overwhelming, challenging, yet rewarding part of my training to date.

A written reflection such as this with twice as many words would still not be enough to capture those rewards and challenges, and to define what nursing can be and what it can offer.

Putting skills into practice to support a family is vital because nursing is not all about clinical expertise.

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