It is a sad fact that we will all die some day. But death never gets easier for the people around us.
Leaving families behind, or new loves, or really anybody we love is absolutely devastating. Death creates an impassable border that we cannot communicate through. It has been the subject of tragedies since ancient times and will continue to be. And there's a reason for that.
Here were some of those stories. Trigger Warnings: death, blood and guts, violence.
Gone Too QuicklyGiphy
I had a confused middle-aged guy come in, was obviously septic, we started antibiotics, fluids, the whole 9 yards within about 15 minutes. I got his wife on the phone (he was about 4 hours from home traveling for work) about 45 minutes into his stay, asked if she wanted to speak to him, she said yes. I went to give him the phone and I realized he needed to immediately be intubated and was close to death. He heard her voice, his eyes lit up, and about 10 minutes later he coded.
It was the only time I've cried openly with nursing staff, and I still remember him. Ended up having Neisseria meningitis meningitis and we couldn't have done anything to save him. Went on a camping trip that night to blow off steam.
The Final Days
We had a middle aged woman come to the ER for a bad headache. She was otherwise healthy. A brain scan showed she had stage 4 brain cancer and an estimated 10-14 days to live. Her judgement and understanding was affected by the tumor so she didn't understand what was happening. The hardest part was telling her husband that his wife, who was fine the day before, is never leaving the hospital and there's nothing he can do.
Horrendously Taken Too Early
A 33 y/o guy with an IV drug habit relatively hidden from his family. He was sent to the ICU for endocarditis and was starting to improve from septic shock when his wife decided to bring in the kids to visit Daddy. Sadly on the day of their visit, he had a cardiac arrest and we had to usher the family out while we performed CPR. Hearing the crying of a grade school kids in the background of a code is something that will always stick with me.
Why Did This Have To Be This Way
Anesthesia resident in St Louis, on my pediatric rotation. Went down to the ED for a gunshot wound, arrive to the trauma bay and found a crowd of providers doing chest compressions on a girl who couldn't've been older than 4. She had a very active bleed coming from a bullet wound in her sternum. Intubated, IV access, gave fluids, epi & after 20 minutes of coding they called it. The collective weight on everyone in the room was palpable.
Nobody knew her more that 20 minutes but it is sad when an innocent child dies.
Too Young To Code
ER nurse here, not a doctor. anyways, a 24 year old running a local half marathon or 10k, he told his friend he didn't feel great, collapsed at the finish line. coded and died on arrival to the ER. the physician, a stone cold guy, called the kids parents to tell them (they lived in another state) and he had tears in his eyes. both the kids parents were doctors, they asked if we shocked him, gave him epi - we said we did everything. they declined an autopsy, we assumed he must have had an unknown cardiac myopathy and it finally caught up to him. I still remember his face and his story. breaks my heart.
Gone Without Contact
Nurse here, I had a patient who knew they had very little time to live, and was working on a letter to their estranged child. When I went in the room to help with after-death care I found the letter, where they had only written half the first sentence before they passed. They died alone.
Worse Than You Could Ever Anticipate
Worst one was a 17 year old patient with cystic fibrosis. Got a lung infection (which are common in these patients), it progressed to a blood stream infection and bacteria was resistant to antibiotics. Was a wonderful family, close, loving parents and siblings. Was a relatively rapid decompensation, ending up on multiple infusions of continuous medications to maintain his blood pressure.
Finally starting having profuse bleeding (process known as DIC related to the blood stream infection). He then went into decompensated shock and shortly thereafter arrested, bleeding from nose and mouth profusely. Parents had been prepped, but being in there doing CPR when Dad realized it was over... There was something about it that was just really bad. He told us to stop, then hugged his kid and kept saying "I'm so sorry. I love you". His mother let out a scream that I can still hear. This was about 12 years ago when I was a resident. I'll never forget that scream. I'm in academics and a sub-specialist. I sadly see kids die often. This was the worst that I witnessed. Any child dying is horrible, but I find that the older ones you connect with and that have a strong bond with the family are really hard. One of my bosses would tell us that if it ever got easy then you need to quit.
As He Goes, So Goes My Country
I'm a nurse, and I've seen so many sad deaths that it's hard to pick just one. But one that stands out:
We had a patient who had cancer and had to be trached. She spent over a month in our icu on the ventilator. Her very sweet husband stayed in her room basically 24/7. He slept in the recliner and lived on Dr. Pepper and Doritos. We got to know him very well. After about 3 weeks, the nurses finally convinced him to go home and get a real night's sleep in a real bed.
The next morning, he didn't come back. His son called later in the day to tell us that he had been found dead at their house. We were all completely shocked and very sad. He was one of the nicest, most helpful family members of any patient I've ever cared for.
Losing her husband was obviously hard on his wife, and her health declined steadily and quickly after that. She just gave up. She was dead within a couple of weeks.
Burdens All Over
I had a lady, in her early 60s who came in two days before her grandson's wedding because she couldn't breathe well. She had so much fluid in her abdomen that it was making it hard for her breathe and for some reason she had kidney injury as well. That day we took out the fluid and tested it and she wanted to go home for her grandson's wedding. Unfortunately she turned out to have ovarian cancer with horrible mets everywhere, Her tumor burden was so high that it failed her kidneys. Her grandson came to visit with his wife on the wedding day, they took pictures. She passed away within a week.
RN here. I recently cared for a woman in the ICU who was in her late 30s and had given birth to a beautiful baby girl seven or eight weeks earlier. Unfortunately, the woman had also been diagnosed with cancer that had originated in the placenta, during her pregnancy. She had, at most, a few months to live. She was really angry and I couldn't blame her.
Never Stood A Chance
Halloween night in 2008 or 2009. I was rotating in busy big city ER. A trauma came in. Motorcyclist vs car or truck. The guy lost his lower leg and bled to death. He was barely alive when he left the scene and was DOA. I can still remember the smell of blood all over the table and floor. I was a student at the time and I helped the RN catalog his belongings. I was a little nosey when I saw a digital camera. Turned it on and there were pics of him and kids in costumes just a few hours before.
It Shouldn't Have Been This Way
RN here. I've had many sad stories of patients passing away; most of the time I can sit with the family and hear stories of their loved ones when they were alive, because they'd lived a good long life and it was their time.
One story sticks out though. A 40s-ish woman who came in with PEs (lung blood clots). She got up to the bathroom at about 3am and collapsed on the way back. We tried, but couldn't bring her back.
Hearing her husband and kids wailing in the family room was really, really hard.
Life Ruined By Prevantable CausesGiphy
I'm in my final year of med school. We had a mum and dad bring in their 8 month old baby, he had been having a seizure for about 35 minutes, sky high fever, obviously dehydrated and was covered in a typical measles rash. They were crying and begging for help. It turns out they were antivax and their baby had caught measles from their older son.
They had been treating him at home with traditional Chinese medicines and essential oils but it didn't help. They only came in when he started fitting. Sadly the baby ended up dying in the ED as we were trying to resuscitate him. It was terrible, the mum was wailing and screaming, I'll never forget it. Later they were arrested for negligence and involuntary manslaughter I think (not based in the US). I'll never forget it because it was a totally preventable death and it ruined their lives.
Working in a hospital a few years ago, busy night, so anyways this teenager stumbled into the hospital, I was the first one to notice him as I was in the hall on the way to go see a nurse, so I look at this guy, I presume he's drunk and I tell him, "go home" he looks at me with a look that will haunt me for the rest of my life, he slowly takes his hands away from his stomach and he has several deep stabs in his stomach. He stumbled and fell. I caught him and there was no time to even get him on a bed or try to help him, I held this 16 kid in my arms as he bled to death whilst he looked me in my eye at kept begging "please don't let me die" felt like a few minutes but was only 30 seconds. For some reason I feel like I let this kid and his parents down. Several years later and numerous therapy sessions and I still feel messed up. Turns out the kid was walking home, took a shortcut through an ally and was mugged and stabbed R.I.P 🌷
Hope Is A Cruel Distractor
We had a four year old who drowned at a family reunion. He was missing forty minutes before they found him underneath the pool cover. He came in to the ED long after there was any chance of getting him back, but he was too cold to declare dead. We had to do full resuscitation on this tiny dead child for 40 minutes while we warmed him up. His parents were watching the entire time, beside themselves, you could just see them clinging desperately to hope, just sobbing quietly.
When at last we stopped they just fell apart. It was honestly like they just couldn't believe it, they couldn't believe that something so awful could even happen. The image of that mother clutching her dead child, talking to him, begging him not to go, will stay with me forever.
One Small Trip
Medical student here. Woman in her 50s tripped and fell outside of church while her husband was pulling the car around. Fractured her C2 vertebra (hangman's fracture) which destroyed her spinal cord. Had to be intubated and ventilated for a day but basically had no motor function and was just kept going long enough for family to come to the ICU. I watched as she was pulled off life support with her family around her. Very sudden and catastrophic.
She actually agreed to be an organ donor and was rushed off to the OR to harvest organs after she passed, but there were some previously unknown problems with several organs that made them unusable. That removed the last small glimmer of hope in an otherwise terrible situation.