Monday, May 22, 2006

Yes, We Cry

In taking care of patients, we have the opportunity to run the gamut of emotions. Patients can make us happy, angry, scared, and sometimes, either patients or their medical conditions can make us cry.

Medicine is strange field. It carries with it, maybe from years of being an "old boys network," a certain machismo. The unspoken code of conduct is that physicians should be "professional" (stoic) and refrain from acts such as crying in front of patients, even if you find yourself in a sad situation with nary a dry eye in the room. We work intimately with disease and death but there is very little in medical training that teaches us to acknowlede or process the emotions that arise. And while we may have seen more deaths than others, that does not make any death easier to take.

In training, unsuccessful resuscitations are seldom discussed. Each member of the resuscitation grapples with the grief and profundity of the experience in their own way. Patient deaths are likewise rarely discussed - sometimes they just disappear off the patient list, or are given a few words on rounds the morning after they passed. Some physicians may know to take time out and grieve, but for too many of us, the feelings are often repressed and neglected.

Just two days ago I was called to the bedside of a dying patient. She wasn't "my" patient in the sense that I was covering for the patient's doctor, but that didn't matter. And although she was an elderly lady with advanced dementia who probably had not recognized her family for a long time, and although the family was gathered, aware, and just wanted their matriarch to be comfortable in her passing, the pain in their eyes and quickly wiped away tears was hard to bear. After updating the family and making sure the patient was comfortable, I had to retreat to the call room and let the tears fall. Pain, illness, and death are never easy, and patients touch us in more ways than they know. We struggle when they struggle and we cry when they cry. We will bravely try to fend off death and treat disease, but we too are flesh and blood, and sometimes, all we need is a corner where it is safe to cry.

5 Comments:

Blogger Erica said...

And if we ever reach a point where there isn't any patient that makes us cry, we oughta consider a different career field, I say. Kudos to you for acknowledging what we all do when we can't do any more.

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Moof said...

Thank you for sharing that.

7:27 PM  
Blogger keagirl said...

Nice to know that other physicians can relate...:)

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Kim said...

Nice to know it isn't just nurses that have to run into the break room....the hardest part is getting it back together and going on with your job, especially in ER.....

2:38 PM  
Blogger Major Don said...

Our family had a vigil for my, much loved, aunt, who was in her 90's. She was in a hospice facility, which we were all grateful for. I wonder if the staff at one of these places could provide insight to this issue.
Thanks for this thought.

11:13 AM  

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