ARE DOCTORS INSENSITIVE TO DEATH?
2 December 2021
Back in March 2020, on the 4th day of my internship, I entered the Pediatric ICU ward to the sight of 2 doctors frantically giving CPR to this 10-year-old boy who got admitted 2 days back in the hospital with complaints of a sudden loss of power in all the four limbs after a loud cry while he was sleeping which was followed by loss of consciousness. Amidst all the chaos and the cry from 10 other babies in the background, I was numb for a moment. I stood there observing the face of both the doctors who kept giving CPR alternatively. The fright and the pain on their faces were heartbreaking. A few minutes later, the child passed away. The doctor informed the parents and what followed was long hours of crying right outside. It was devastating to look at the mother who suddenly lost his son who was absolutely healthy just 2 days back. Everyone there got their bit of grief. But the doctor in a moment shifted to work for the other patients. I was shook looking at everything that happened there in those few minutes, and I rushed to the side room to wipe off my tears and get back to work.
This was the first time I witnessed death at my workplace but in that one year of internship that followed, I have seen innumerable lives lost despite genuine attempts to save each one of them. The activities after looks like a routine most of the time. Inform the families, give them the reassurance that we tried our best, stand with them for 2 minutes, make the death certificate, shift the body and then start your work again. It almost seems mechanical as to how we deal with death.
But the grief that comes with every life lost, stays. A tiny bit of one’s self is replaced by grief every time we lose someone. I still remember the faces and names of humans who lost lives in my workplace and I am aware that in due course of time, they will get replaced by other names and faces. But the grief accumulates. There are days when you would see doctors crying in the side room of the Emergency department after a failed CPR but then rushing back soon as there is someone else who needs to be treated. And it seems unfair to let your grief over your work because it will only lead to more grief. Such a paradox. Grief is personal. The grief from losing a loved one is not the same as the grief of losing a patient. But grief is not comparable. It cannot be measured and there are no winners. Grief is heartbreaking. Grief fills you with that gnawing feeling which slowly eats you. We aren’t given time to process it. We are taught to have detached concern towards our patients. Our jobs demand us to be objective about life and death.
Something that we are never taught but happens in the background is how this grief helps us to be more empathetic which ultimately makes this profession more meaningful and satisfying. The next time we give someone CPR and feel the pulse coming back in the carotid, the joy does not only come from looking at the faces of all his loved ones but also the selfish joy of a little less grief for that day. It is the humanness of this profession, of all the emotions that we experience which keeps us going come what may. It is all these emotions of pain, joy, gratitude, empathy, and grief that push us to try that extra bit every time the working conditions make us want to give up, or every time we question if this profession is worth it. These emotions are what make us human, and that is what keeps the sanctity of this profession intact.
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