It’s a cruel, cruel world.
It’s a fact of life that people die everyday. But the tragic truth of the matter is that, when someone dies, we almost never stop to think about the toll it can take on our doctors and nurses.
An image of a Californian ER doctor reacting to the death of his 19-year-old patient has gone viral after it was posted to Reddit by one of his colleagues this week.
It’s an image as confronting as it is heartbreaking. And it’s raising concern for the emotionally-taxing work that medical professions do each and every day.
According to the doctor’s colleague, “the man pictured was unable to save one of his patients.”
“Though this is a common occurrence in our field of work, the patients we lose are typically old, sick, or some combination of the two. The patient that died was 19 years old, and for him, it was one of those calls we get sometimes that just hits you.
“Within a few minutes, the doctor stepped back inside, holding his head high again.”
The photograph has prompted an outpouring of support from doctors around the world, a show of solidarity that the man in the picture is not the only one to have experienced such trauma in the workplace.
An ER doctor by the name of Smeeee recounted a similar feeling of loss and disappointment to the man in the picture:
We are trained for years during residency to preserve life. We do it as much as we can, and resuscitation becomes so ingrained in us that work becomes machine-like.
We empathise with our patients, yes, but we put our own emotions to the side. Because if we felt any swing in emotion – whether it be anger, extreme sadness, or pride – that might impair the way we care for the next patient we see.
Patients will come and go – we will save a lot of them, but some we cannot save. And it’s at this moment, this one moment, that we actually feel.
… When it comes to our work, nothing is harder – and I mean nothing – than telling a loved one that their family member is dead.
Give me a bloody airway to intubate. Give me the heroin addict who needed IV access yesterday, but no one can get an IV. Give me the child with anaphylaxis. But don’t give me the unexpected death.
The patient might die. We can only do so much, and we can only hope to do our best. But it’s that moment, when you stop resuscitation, and you look around, you look down at your shoes to make sure there’s no blood on them before talking with family, you put your coat back on and you take a deep breath, because you know that you have to tell a family that literally the worst thing imaginable has happened. And it’s in that moment that I feel. And I feel like the guy in this picture.
Another user by the name of J-HOF said that he experienced the emotional stress doctors were under when they failed to save his father from an aortic dissection earlier this year.
“He started feeling a weird pain in his chest and within an hour he was dead. He was a perfectly healthy 49 year old man,” he wrote.
Related content: She died having never had the chance to hold her babies.
“The doctors kept reassuring us that he would be fine.
“When he died the doctors who were working on him at the UCSD medical center were crushed. I could definitely see it in their eyes…
“Doctors do not get the praise they deserve.”
So, next time you see a doctor or nurse be sure to thank them for the work they do. Thank them for taking on a job that is tragic and confronting and emotionally stressful. Thank them for the tears they’ve shed as a result of lives lost. And thank them for the differences they’ve made as a result of lives saved.
How does this picture make you feel?