How a Nurse had to handle a Suicide Event

by Angela Brooks

Where is the support for the nurse?

When I started nursing school 1986 I had no idea what I was really getting into. I just wanted to be able to have a job that traveled any where I wanted to live. No one told me what I would experience would be left up to me to deal with.

When I began the adventure of mental health nursing I knew I would be dealing with people who had altered thinking but I never thought I would have to deal with suicide with in the hospital. That is suppose to be a safe place, or so I thought.

Back in the early days of working at a state funded hospital I did not think allot about the dangers of working on a unit of 15 -20 clients alone at night or with only one other staff. After 10 PM the switch board for the hospital was moved to the phones on our acute unit until 5:30 AM. Not only did I have clients to take care of – I also had the main phone line to answer coming into the hospital.

At 5 AM as we began to prepare the morning routine for the clients to get up for the day – a panic call came in from another unit to "call a code M". A code M means there is a medical need on that floor and all available licensed staff need to go to that unit as quick as possible.

I sounded the buzzer – called the code and what unit it was on. Hung up the red phone and took off running. The adrenaline was pumping and as I darted through the next units doors the patient assistant was standing in the hallway pointing into a patients room, She was pale white and sobbing.

I pushed the door open and looked toward the bed. I stopped in my tracks at the sight that stood before me. There was a man hanging from the ceiling by his wolverine leather boot laces. I did not respond but flew into action with out really thinking. I grabbed the chair that he had stood on to climb up on his dresser with – to get up high enough to reach the laces to cut with a pair of scissors.

By this time other staff began arriving I had made the cut into the leather boot laces. The staff below held his body and laid him on the ground. It felt like I had stood in that one spot for 10 minutes but it was only seconds before I jumped off the chair and knelt down beside his body and knew there was nothing we could do.

His body rocked as it lay on the floor and the staff were assessing him. Yes, I said rocked. Rigor mortis had set in. Rigor Mortis, a stiffening of the muscles, usually starts to take place at around 3 hours after someone is dead with full rigor occurring at about 12 hours after death. After the 12 hour mark the rigor slowly ceases and at around 72 hours rigor disappears.

I stood in what seemed like a bubble watching the others come in with the same shock response as I had. The state troopers arrived and I was questioned because I was first on the scene. All of the administrative staff arrived angry. People were every where and nurses stood in silence. The one staff who was working on the unit had documented he was asleep.  He obviously went unattended for too long.

That happened well over 19 years ago. To this day that was the most horrific and traumatic event I have experienced in mental health nursing. It was not the last suicide – but it was a marked event. To this day I can still remember the conversation I had with this gentleman the night before when he told me how he had attempted to harm him self and failed in the past. I can see his eyes, see the boot laces around his neck, see his stiff body laying on the floor and hear the staff panicking and talking among themselves.

Once this night ended that day was not over for me. I still had to attend a funeral of my own cousin who had been shot by her husband. Two deaths by trauma was a lot for one day. There was nothing offered to the staff that attended that day. No counseling.  No comfort. No assistance. It was almost as if we had to just keep on keeping on.

Where in the nursing training do you get prepared for events like these?

Where was the support for the nurses?

Do you  feel you are one of those nurses that need support? I’d love to speak to you and see how we might partner together to bring help, encouragement and support to others in our field. Comment below, email me or even find me on Facebook if you’d like. I’m here to support you as well.                                       


Angela is a nurse that has worked for 21 years in the same state funded psychiatric hospital assisting some clients that others might refuse to treat. She works on the psychiatric ward.

She also runs her own company on the side and supports other nurses in how to bring passion into their role at work. Out of the box remedies for speaking to people and more.

Angela's blogtalk radio show is laser sharp for today's world! Take the Nursing Survey by clicking here We want to hear from you

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Angela Brooks is a retired nurse after 25 years in mental health. She used her lunch breaks to build her business part time on the night shift. Her car became a mobile university as she listened to business training, coaching calls on CD and phone webinars. She blogged while she was at her sons' baseball practices.

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