“Don’t be too hard on yourself, get involved when you can, use the support and reflect accordingly.”

Hello there, my name is Paige and I am a final year child nursing student – saying ‘final year’ literally terrifies me! I was approached by one of the lovely student reps and asked if I would be willing to write a blog. After having followed the other beautifully written blogs, I thought there is no way I am going to be able to write anything nearly as good as those. For anyone that knows me, you will be aware of my confidence issues (highlighted in every SWAT analysis) and with being in final year, I am doing all I can to break these self-esteem barriers that remain. So, I thought why not, let’s just attempt to write a blog.

With all the fantastic aspects that have already been covered, I had a think about what has particularly impacted me throughout the duration of the course. The first thing was witnessing my first death. I am not sure there is anything that can prepare you for seeing your first death, especially a child. After spending ten weeks with the community nurses, it certainly reiterated my passion of a career in end of life (EOL) and palliative care.

You may be wondering, so why EOL? Unfortunately dying is something in life that is inevitably going to happen. But as parent’s you never want to hear there is something wrong with your child, let alone that their life is going to be cut short. A parent’s world comes crashing down. The main focus of EOL and palliative care is to support children and their families to live as well and full as they possibly can. For me partly, although the lows are low, ensuring there are highs is so crucial. There is something very special about having a part in creating special memories and doing your absolute best to make the child’s final wishes happen (I will discuss an example in a moment).

Let’s get to the point. All deaths are different! Some are expected, some may not be.

I experienced my first death whilst at a hospice on my first week of my elective placement. A common misconception of a children’s hospice is that the patients are there to die. In some circumstances, yes this is the case but not for all. On my first day in handover, I was informed that we had a young boy expected to be in his ‘final days’. I knew for a long time that a children’s hospice is something I wanted to experience, and therefore had done my best to prepare myself that a potential death could arise.

One wish of the child’s remained before he died, which was to watch his mum and dad get married. Overnight, his breathing patterns changed, and the breaths became shallow, which are signs of the body slowly shutting down. Therefore, as a team, we worked together to make his final wish happen. The family’s vicar came to the hospice and the wedding ceremony went ahead by the child’s bedside. Five hours after the wedding, the young boy passed away.

I feel I was a bit naive in thinking I had coped well with the death… until the following day. That’s when it really hit me. I passed his mum and dad in the corridor a few times, panicking about what to say or whether to say anything. I felt a little, sympathetic smile was probably best. It was change over day, therefore my own patient had just gone home, and I was in the corridor changing the bed ready for the next patient to come. The door of the boys room was open and people were in and out moving their belongings to the car. This is the point where it started to really affect me. My eyes began to fill and tears starting streaming down my face “This is so wrong, a family should not be going through this and leaving the building without their son” I thought. I continued to face the opposite direction, telling myself to pull it together. A nurse rushed passed me asking how I was getting on with the room, “umm can I just take a minute please?” I asked with my bottom lip quivering.

I took myself to the staff room toilet, closed the door and let the tears flow. After ten minutes, the nurse came to check on me, realising something was up. She explained the team were meeting in the office for what they call a ‘cuddle’. This is their way of enabling individuals to give their own account of the child dying, struggles they have and being able to support each other with the experience. Although I found the ‘cuddle’ beneficial, it was still very raw for me and receiving a hug from the parents as they left hit me hard. My mentor suggested I took some time and let me go home early. I felt selfish, embarrassed that this was necessary and worried what they were all thinking – “How is she going to cope as a nurse?”.

I want to reiterate that we are all individuals and deal with things differently. It is also important to consider how each trust support each other. Don’t be too hard on yourself, get involved when you can, use the support and reflect accordingly. I am now a bank carer at the hospice whilst I complete my degree, where I am touched by so many children and families. I continue to try to not shy away from death and develop on my own coping strategies in becoming a children’s nurse.

Author: Paige Gilliat, 3rd Year Student 

Disclaimer: This blog contains personal opinions of students only and does not necessarily represent the views of the Children’s Nursing team, School of Health Sciences or the University of Surrey.

If you’re interested in writing a blog post for us – whether it’s a one-off about something in Nursing you’re passionate on, or as a regular contributor, please email Beth Phillips (bp00183@surrey.ac.uk), Ellie Mee (em00607@surrey.ac.uk),  Maddie McConnell (mm01664@surrey.ac.uk) or Tia Dolphin (td00227@surrey.ac.uk) – we’d love to hear from you!