ER doctor grieving

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Grievingdoc2It’s grainy, it’s blurred. But a paramedic’s touching photograph of a Californian ER doctor doubled over, taking a moment to compose himself after losing a 19-year-old patient, has gone viral.

‘Hearing that a family member has died is such an awful and wrenching experience for the relative that it’s easy to forget the emotional toll that must be taken by doctors sharing the news,’ wrote The Independent, London. Qatar Day wrote ‘It’s easy to forget the incredible work doctors are doing every single day.’

In an Emergency Medicine Journal blog, Dr Iain Beardsell writes, ‘The deaths that we intimately observe in the ED are sudden, sometimes violent and often unexpected. We stand at the periphery, unable to explain why someone’s father, mother, brother, or child has died. Families look to us to help, but there is little we can do to lessen their grief. We try to find the words, with a simple “I’m sorry” before leaving them and moving on to our next patient.’

‘The time when I feel like I am truly helping isn’t when I save lives, but when I do everything I can to ease the pain of an inevitable or unexpected death. The simple things like holding a relative’s hand or making sure a patient is on a proper bed and pain free (I have a deep seated belief that no one should ever, if at all possible, die on a trolley).’

The Independent quotes the poster of the picture.”The man pictured was unable to save one of his patients,” the image’s poster, who works as an EMT in California alongside a colleague who took the photo, explained.

“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.”
While a little voyeuristic, the photo is a reminder of the emotional rollercoaster ER doctors must go through every single day.

“When [my father] died, the doctors who were working on him at the UCSD Medical Center were crushed. I could definitely see it in their eyes. They called my house multiple times throughout the year to see how my family was doing. Doctors do not get the praise they deserve,” one user wrote, while a fellow doctor shared their own experience of the death of patients.

“I know I’m speaking in general here, and I know that we aren’t all the same, however when it comes to our work, nothing is harder – and I mean nothing – than telling a loved one that their family member is dead,” the doctor said.

“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.”

Full report in The Independent
Full blog in Emergency Medicine Journal

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