Clinical placements

Care and compassion in a cardiac arrest

Performing CPR for the first time helped nursing student Laura Leach understand the importance of being there for patients at the end of life
Tile_Dying_iStock.jpg

Performing CPR for the first time helped nursing student Laura Leach understand the importance of being there for patients at the end of life

I was on clinical placement on a cardiology ward in my first year of training when an elderly female patient was admitted with end stage heart failure.

The patient, who I will call Alice, had been on the ward for a few days and I had helped care for her since her admission. I had assisted her with her activities of daily living and helped with her personal care. Engaging in conversations with Alice about her hobbies and the things she was passionate about also helped me to build up a therapeutic relationship with her.

One afternoon, I was helping my mentor administer medication

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Performing CPR for the first time helped nursing student Laura Leach understand the importance of being there for patients at the end of life 


Not every patient can be saved, but all deserve compassion, dignity and respect. Picture: iStock

I was on clinical placement on a cardiology ward in my first year of training when an elderly female patient was admitted with end stage heart failure. 

The patient, who I will call Alice, had been on the ward for a few days and I had helped care for her since her admission. I had assisted her with her activities of daily living and helped with her personal care. Engaging in conversations with Alice about her hobbies and the things she was passionate about also helped me to build up a therapeutic relationship with her. 

One afternoon, I was helping my mentor administer medication to the patients in our bay when the arrest buzzer sounded. As we were close by, we were the first to reach the patient, which I soon realised was Alice. 

Privilege to care 

My mentor checked for signs of life following the ABCDE method – airway, breathing, circulation, disability, escalation – but there were none. The resuscitation team were on their way, so under supervision from my mentor, I started cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). 

This was the first time I had been involved in a cardiac arrest as a nursing student, and my adrenaline was pumping. I was nervous and scared, but I put my fear to one side as Alice needed my help and I wanted to do my best for her.  

The resuscitation team arrived quickly to help, and between us we continued CPR for about 30 minutes. Sadly, our attempts to resuscitate Alice were unsuccessful, and she passed away with me by her side, holding her hand. 

I felt privileged to have met Alice and spent time with her when she was alive, and I was also glad I was able to care for her in the last minutes of her life. I held her hand and stayed with her until she died, showing her that she was not alone. 

Compassion and respect 

Performing CPR for the first time was a great achievement for me. Even though we were unable to save Alice, my confidence increased, and I realised how important it is to know that you have done all you can for your patients, and that you were there when they needed care and compassion the most. 

This was also a difficult experience for me as I lost my grandmother to heart failure a few years ago. Caring for Alice helped me to make peace with my grandmother's death, and I hope that someone was there for her the way I was there for Alice. Even though I couldn't bring her back, I knew I had comforted Alice and made her feel at peace in her final minutes. 

This experience changed my perception of patient care. It helped me to understand how important it is to be there for patients at the end of life, and ensure they are always treated with compassion, dignity and respect. 


Laura Leach is a third year nursing student at Derby University 

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