Doctors and death

While I was watching a movie yesterday, a thought struck me.

In one of the scenes, the protagonist’s best friend who have been battling with drugs and disease, which eventually lead to an embarrassingly display of public incontinence attempted suicide. He was rushed to the hospital and was fighting for his life. It seemed to me, the whole scene was play backed at a slower rate than normal. The urgency of the doctor was illustrated in detailed with the hurried push of the stretcher, seemingly futile CPR, repeated defibrillating, unresponsive heart rate monitor, and finally the pronounce of time of death. She then slowly pulled up the blanket up and covered the deceased’s face. After telling the family members and friends that she had done her best, she walked away briskly.

As I watched this scene, I wondered,what if, that is the doctor’s first time pronouncing? Or even if it’s the 3rd or 4th or 5th time? How does the doctor feel at that moment?

With this curiosity in mind, I scoured the web, blogs and scholar (I used google) with key words such as ‘doctors pronouncing time of death stress’ which yielded some results on how to increase sensitivity while performing it, and one that gave a glimpse of self development from pronouncing death but unfortunately I have to pay to access the article but other than that, it doesn’t seem to be a case. So I made it less specific by entering key words, ‘doctors time of death’, ‘doctors stress’ and ‘doctors pronouncing’. I was pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t yield any narrative results whereby a doctor talked about their experience nor any research studies showing how they manage it or even suggest that this might be a cause of stress! Does this mean that doctors manage them quite well that it does not justify the need to be documented or researched?

I simply cannot imagine myself being fine facing the first death of my life which I have to make ‘official’. Would I be fine watching the heart retching sobs of family members and friends? The lost of a life? How should I prep myself to be professional? It almost seems that I am required to be empathic and strong right from the beginning of my medical career.

As a counsellor, I would not be facing direct death at work so I cannot understand how that feels. Bereavement for a client would be a completely different situation as they have emotional ties to the deceased. How would I feel if a stranger passes away in front of me? I would be tremendously shocked and feel immensely sorry for his/her loved ones but I guess it is but a passing moment for me. Perhaps this is how doctors see it…?

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