Chapter 3: Problematic and critical issues

Rapid deterioration

“His condition went from fine to dying in seconds. The team moved in to try and stabilize him…there was just so much chaos. No one had time to review anything with me”. - Family member

Sometimes the clinical situation moves so quickly that there is no opportunity to form any kind of meaningful relationships or even meet the family before death occurs. In these situations, it can be very healing for families to participate in a thorough debriefing.  

  • Present information about what has happened in a simple and clear way. Leave out distressing details if possible.
  • Express your condolences to the family.
  • Let them know that you did everything possible.
  • Ask if they have questions and take your time in answering them as honestly and compassionately as possible.
  • Acknowledge any details that are unclear to you.

Conversation Prompts

“We did our absolute best. It was unclear until almost the very end whether or not he would survive. We didn’t want to give up our efforts to save him until we had exhausted all the options. I’m very sorry for your loss”.

“We don’t know everything that happened, but we will try to get you as much information as we can. We understand that not having all the answers is very difficult. We can tell you what we are aware of. This is what we know…”

Clinician Tip