Nurses, Let’s Share: First Patient Death

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Death occurs more slowly than thought  like a wave killing the body cell by cellI was a brand new group home Residential Counselor, years before Nursing. In my first ever Team Meeting, I said we really needed to push smoking cessation with 4 pack per day Mr X, or he was “going to die”.

Less than a week later, I noticed that we hadn’t seen Mr X yet that day. It was odd, so two of us went up to check on him. He was dead: an excellent reason not to come downstairs but I wasn’t looking at it that way. I sent the other counselor to call 911, then tried to start CPR. It took half of the few minutes I had alone to roll this huge man onto his back, and I was still trying to figure out how to get an airway when the EMT arrived and told me to relax, he’d been dead for hours. Stiff – hence no airway. I was both relieved and appalled.

I learned one thing, I can tell you. i learned that it’s REALLY spooky when you predict someone’s death, then they die. It doesn’t feel good! So I stopped making those predictions, for a long time.

I’ll never forget Mr X, both alive and dead. It still gives me pause to picture him smoking, every inhale deep, using up an unbelievably large portion of that butt. He could start a new one without breaking stride, and he did, many times a day. As a smoker, he was POWERFUL. Smoking this way was the only power he had, actually. He was well liked and kind, but quite powerless. I never looked at it that way until today. He was poor and impaired in many ways, but he was the best smoker, in this odd sense, that I ever met. The best. His only ‘best’, his only way to be impressive. I wonder if he looked at it that way? I’ll never know.

I’m not looking to convince my fine and wonderful nurse readers to trod all over HIPAA and get themselves in trouble. I’m more interested in the personal side of the experience, not the clinical. You’ve just experienced your first death. How did you react? What was it like? Did it change you?

I want to know. Let’s share, nurses. Let’s share.


  1. I just remembered a story I heard on the radio, this happened in a state i don’t remember , In a nursing home they started noticing that their house cat, would start sleeping with a different resident , and that resident would pass within a few days. It happened so often, and became predictable, almost like the cat could sense the impending death.
    At work making rounds, one morning i went into a patients room I asked the man ,”how are you doing” to that he replied “well, the cat isn’t sleeping with me yet.”


  2. Hey Greg,
    I love your memory of Mr. X and his powerful smoking. Such a vivid and heartfelt story and somehow a privileged glimpse into his being that honors him and nursing.

    Great minds think alike! I love this question too because it helps to raise awareness about end-of-life experiences some difficult or even traumatic and some beautiful. I posed a similar question and shared my first patient death story here and hope you don’t mind me sharing it. A few other nurses shared their experiences as comments and I think helps to increase the share!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My first death was with one of my favorite patients in hospice. He always had a smile on his face, full of conversation, and a twinkle in his eyes. Hours before he died he told me that he had written letters to each of his kids and was now ready to leave the earth. He died peacefully a short time later.

    Liked by 1 person

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