How this paediatric nurse copes with patient deaths
Published on 17 February 2023
Coping with the death of a patient is a painful, but unavoidable part of being a nurse. This paediatric nurse shares how he deals with that aspect of the job.
Even now, with over a decade of experience as a paediatric nurse, Kiren. T still remembers vividly the first time a patient died during his shift.
For Kiren, a nurse manager at the Paediatric Intensive Care and High Dependency Unit, National University Hospital (NUH), the death hit him especially hard as he had formed a close bond with the patient.
“I was taking care of this dying patient, and because of how much time we spent together, I grew quite close to him," Kiren shared. "I was also able to build a rapport with his family, even though they were challenging to manage because of circumstances.”
As fate would have it, it was during Kiren’s shift at the ICU when the patient eventually passed away.
It was an emotional and sobering experience, but one that helped to shape his current perspective on life and death.
“I think that the patient’s death left quite an impact on me. Through that experience, I learned that living is important, but the process of passing is just as important as well,” Kiren reflected.
“At the end of the day…death is painful, yes, but it can be beautiful, depending on how you pass on. That is something I realised, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Nonetheless, working in a highly-charged department like the Paediatric ICU – where young patients are often on the verge of death – can be tough even in the best of times.
A major challenge that nurses often face is having to tactfully manage the emotions of their patients’ caregivers.
Kiren shared that the best way for nurses to do that is to develop good relationships with both the patients and their caregivers. He elaborated, “I think it's very important that we, as nurses, work on building rapport with the patient and their caregivers. In this sense, open and honest communication with one another is key.
“The patients’ caregivers must know that we are humans too. We care, we feel, and we want our patients to recover, and it is a collaborative partnership.”
Having attended to countless patients, Kiren believes that one of the best ways to help a child get better is to ensure that they are well supported throughout the entire recovery process.
“I have had two patients who come in, both suffering from the same disease, yet one walks out of the hospital a lot earlier than the other, even though the medical and nursing care provided are the same,” said Kiren.
“Nursing can accentuate the healing process, and the role of caregivers is equally important. When they [caregivers] are a lot more involved with their loved one – for example, constantly talking to them even if they are heavily sedated, or comatose – it has an effect that can help with their recovery.
“That is why I believe in a hybrid approach of not just relying on medicine alone, but also on the love and support from the family.”
While Kiren is a respected and experienced paediatric nurse today, he admits that he only joined the profession by chance.
“I think a lot of nurses will say that this profession is their calling,” Kiren mused. “But for me, I kind of stumbled into nursing. I wanted to do a degree in National University of Singapore (NUS), and nursing was my second choice. My first choice was to join the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, but they got back to me late, and I had already accepted the invitation to join nursing.”
However, Kiren – who has spent his entire career with NUH – has no regrets with his decision to become a nurse.
“I’m the kind of person who will always want to do my best in whatever I do, so once I was in nursing, I didn’t look back,” said Kiren. “But the positive experiences that I’ve had, with patients, caregivers, and my fellow colleagues, have helped to reaffirm my decision to stay in this profession for the long haul.
“I believe that to be the best at what you do, you need to push yourself as far as possible, and experience as much as you can. I like that NUH is progressive, because it’s aligned to my own personal values and beliefs that you have to keep moving forward – that’s why I continue to stay even after more than a decade.”
In consultation with Kiren. T, Nurse Manager, Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and High Dependency, NUH.