Death is the culmination of life. It is inevitable. Whether you are young or old, boy or girl, poor or rich, we all have the same fate at the end. And the scary part is, no one truly knows when he or she will finally take his or her last breath.
Witnessing life being taken away is a fairly common scene in the medical field. I’m already 3/4 done with my clerkship (junior internship) year in Medicine, and I’ve witnessed a lot of family members crying in the hospital halls because they lost their loved ones. Even if they already knew what was bound to happen, they are still stunned by numbness inching through their bodies the moment they lose their loved ones.
I remember my first code blue, (an emergency situation requiring immediate resuscitative efforts) she was a neurosurgery patient. She was just in her 40s and was quite a chatterbox before her elective operation. But the surgery left her in a coma until eventually she deteriorated. I was monitoring her vital signs and fluids every hour until she died, so the moment I noticed that there was no pulse or heartbeat, I was caught off guard and was frozen for a second, but eventually I got back to my senses and called the code. Unfortunately, we were not able to revive her. When the medical residents called the “time of death”, I was shocked. The patient’s daughter and son were crying. My heart fell to the ground. After a few seconds I ran towards the door and tried to find the nearest comfort room and cried like a baby.
But a different scenario happened in my latest code blue, which happened last week. He was a Pediatric patient who had a congenital heart disease. I did CPR and it was my first time doing it on a pediatric patient. A few minutes into resuscitation, the patient’s parents decided to sign the Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR). Everyone was quiet and they gave the parents time and space to grieve for their loss. It was a painful scene to watch, but to my surprise, I did not cry. (It was quite surprising because I am a cry baby). I just went back to my work like nothing really happened. When I went home that day, I called a friend because it really worried me that I did not feel anything. I asked him “Am I a bad person, or as a future physician is it bad that I did not feel anything when the child died?” But he said that the fact that I am checking and asking myself why I just felt numb when our patient died is a good sign. Because maybe deep down, I still do care. I just repressed all the emotions because there are still loads of work to be done that day. And true enough, after a few days, I balled my eyes out when I remembered the last few minutes of that child’s life.
It’s hard in my line of work to care and not to care. When is it wrong to feel and not to feel? Is it okay to be desensitized to death because it is commonly encountered in our everyday lives? How much is the right amount of care that should be given to our patients so that we can give them the optimal treatment but at the same time we won’t be too attached to them? These are the things they don’t teach you in med school. These are important questions that we should take note and assess every day. These are the type of questions that can only be answered by experience. And our answers to these questions would help mold and define us into the type of physician that we will be as we practice medicine.
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