Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dealing With Death

I'm 24 years old. I don't have a lot of experience with death.

Well, I didn't. I still don't. I guess I have some now, barely. I've been working on the wards for 7 weeks now. The other night was my first night of call. Within 30 minutes a patient coded and ultimately passed away.

I'd never been in the room when someone went from alive to dead. I'd never talked to a person in the morning and come back to find them gone. I'd never even see CPR used before.

I've never had to see a family get 'the news.' I've never had to even think about telling a family 'the news.' I'd never seen the faces of the newly widowed, the child without a mother, or even worse the mother who no longer has a child.

It's not something I'm good at. I've shed more tears these past few weeks over the lives of strangers than I've ever shed over those I've actually known. It's devastating.

I don't know how physicians make these life and death decisions. I don't know how they've become numb to death. I don't know if I'll ever get there.

I hope I don't. I'd rather be delusional with grief because the pain of death still affects me then so far gone that I'm numb to raw human emotion.

I don't know how to look a person in the eye and say that there's nothing more we can do for their loved one. I don't know how to answer their questions. I don't know how to console them. I don't even know where to begin.

It's hard, very hard.

I'll start with loving them and hope the rest comes with it.


  1. I do not think it was coincidence that this post from you at this post (http://heartsonfire33.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/g-is-for-grief/) from a Priest in my diocese were in my reader at the same time today.

    I don't know how you (or anyone) does it either, but I do know that our ability to feel grief is important and I will pray that you are always able to do so when necessary.

  2. I'm sure your compassion and genuine grief over the loss of life is a comfort to the families receiving the news. I'll pray you have the strength to cope with facing death so often. That would be so difficult!

  3. Oh, Katie that sounds so difficult. Know that I'm not alone in praying for you as you do this important work. God is working through you!!

  4. That must be a very difficult job. Try to keep in mind that God does not view death the same way we do. Ask for graces to see it as He does. When those families are given the news, you will learn what to expect from them, and it will get easier.

  5. I can't imagine experiencing death like that up close and personal and not being devastated by it. You are a kind and caring person, so I know any messages you would tell the family members about the passing of their loved ones would be with the utmost compassion.
    It is better to care than not care at all, although it just breaks your heart.

  6. I agree with Adri. I will pray for you, Katie.
    What a burden.

  7. Never be ashamed of your tears. They're part of what makes you human.

    It's not that you get numb -- it's that you hit a point at which your mind can wrap itself around the reality that is your profession in which you usher people in and out of this world and you realize that it's a blessed responsibility. All the great things I've learned to say to dying families when I've sat with them have come from doctors, not from any pastoral care seminars.

    I'd ask Dr. Paul Camarata how he deals because I think he could probably give you better advice than I can.

  8. Katie, the way you express yourself here, and the heart that you reveal, is something much needed in the medical profession. Those of us who have been patients in those beds know how much it means to look up and see a doctor who looks at us like we're human beings. God is calling you to this work, and He will prepare your heart to be an instrument of His mercy. He will enable you to do many things, and endure many things, that you cannot yet even imagine. Pray and trust in Him and don't be afraid.

  9. I have to admit, once I read the line about a mother no longer having her child, I just skimmed the rest of this. I can't even imagine the pain and suffering you are helping people through. Prayers for you and for any of the families you come in contact with. May you never be insensitive to the passing of a human being and always be a comfort to those in grief. Amen.

  10. Don't get used to the sickness and death - it's what keeps you human, and it will make you a better doctor, and the families will appreciate that in their grieg I think.

  11. Katie,
    I completely understand your difficult times. No, you shouldn't get "used to" death, but I'm not sure what other term to use. You will develop a different understanding from most of the population and you will be aware of it during the times you lose someone close to you--you will see your parents, your husband, your siblings all handle it differently from the way you have begun to understand it.

    Shortly after I started my first floor nursing job and when I was still on orientation, I lost a patient very unexpectedly. She was 52 and I still remember everything about it. I knew something was not right and had asked doctors to look into what I thought was wrong, but no one seemed to think there was the issue I did. Just as I was preparing to call the physician with her current status, we heard a phlebotomist yell down the hall to call a rapid response. Then she yelled to call a code. I won't say what she looked like when we found her (for the sake of non-medical people on your blog), but we coded her for a brief period and lost her. My preceptor was in just as much shock as me--she had never lost a patient. I had moved to the floor from the ER and had seen a few deaths in traumas and such, but never my own personal patient.

    Katie, know that you will gain something from all of these experiences that will be unique to you. No, it will never be easy--and if it becomes so, you will know it's time to leave your profession--but like I said, there will be a change and an understanding and a wisdom and comfort. Do what you need to do to cope with a death, find someone you can share with because dealing with deaths and not pushing them out of your mind is the only way you will be able to handle them in the long run.

    God bless.

  12. I've gotten emotional over my work with animal research, and can only imagine how hard this is for you. Please allow yourself to grieve. I'll pray for you.

  13. I can't even imagine what that's like for you! There was once that a patient that I've seen for a couple of years ask me what I thought of his case and if he was dying. He knew the answer, but he needed to hear someone say it because the doctors don't know what's wrong so they haven't given him a prognosis. But as I said, he'd come to the point on some level that he knew. Praying that you can find the right way to deal with all this, without losing your caring and sensitivity!

  14. My grandma recently passed away (about 8 weeks ago) and I was there along with five other family members when she died. That was my first experience being with someone who was passing away and although it was sad, she was a woman who lived an amazing life and was not in pain at the time she died. She had not been communicating with us for many hours and we knew her body was going through the stages of shutting down for many hours prior to her passing away. So the way she died was a blessing we were all very thankful for, although we miss her every day.

    What I wanted to add is that the medical professionals who came in to speak with us during her time there and right before and after her death were so supportive and understanding. This was in a nursing home and one of the medical staff in particular went out of her way to check-in on my Grandma as it was clear she would pass away soon. This kind woman was the last person to come in and kiss my Grandma's forehead before she passed away. And she hugged each of us in the moments after her death. It was only moments...but the unconditional support offered was so meaningful to us and our healing.

    After this experience, I'm so thankful for medical professionals like you, who are human enough to grieve the loss of life. As a mental health professional who works with families in crisis I know it is stressful to encounter hardship and loss on a daily basis, but because of our faith we can also pray for the people we serve and know that God loves them very much.

    Praying for you as you continue your journey to becoming a doctor. May God give you strength and peace!

  15. This made me cry.

    You're going to be a great doctor. And don't know how you'll do any of this stuff either, but I do know one thing: You will be a comfort to those families. Keep caring.


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