So obviously this blog encompasses all things health and wellness, but another main focus clearly is career longevity in EM, and “wellness” in that sense… such as keys and tools that will help us to have long successful careers. It’s well known that Emergency Medicine has one of the highest burnout rates of all specialties.
That being said, one of the reasons that emergency medicine can occasionally be such a tough field is because of the difficult and sad things we see, feel, and experience with our patients. Which prompts me to ask, what is the best way to try to handle these tough types of cases!??
Recently, there was a very young child that died in our emergency department while I was working. This was not my patient, however when a really sick baby comes in, it’s almost like watching a horrible car accident- you just can’t look away. Or at least I can’t. I was walking through the resuscitation bay, and I saw a crowd of what seemed like a million people, and I knew something was going on. So I peeked my head in, and I saw this little baby, only a few months old, with several people attempting to “bring her back to life”, and a whole lot of people standing around the stretcher watching, trying to do whatever they could to help. Then I saw the mother… she was sitting in a chair near the bed that her daughter was on, terrified, horrified, and holding on with everything she had to the chance that the docs would bring her baby back to her. I stood there near the back of the group of people resuscitating this beautiful little child- and I kept looking back to the baby, the team working on her, and then the mother… back and forth, over and over again… When the mother was told that her child had died, I was just overwhelmed with sadness, emptiness, helplessness. I walked quickly out of the bay with tears in my eyes, trying to hide this from my colleagues. I was not the only one.
I have 2 absolutely incredible little children, and I can’t imagine a pain greater in this world than losing one of them, and as much as we are told to separate ourselves from this kind of thing, I just couldn’t. And I don’t think most people can. Nor do I really think that I want to. I don’t want to become cold and callous to the point where I don’t feel anything anymore, where I lose compassion and empathy because it’s just “another patient”, or “part of this job”. True, it is part of this job, and maybe feeling nothing when sad things happen would make it easier to deal… but I don’t think that is an option for many of us in this field.
So for those of us who do have some trouble dealing with these very sad, very real situations, what is the best way to handle this!!? It’s a very big reality of our daily lives on this job. On that day, thank goodness I had some absolutely fantastic people- friends, FAMILY, at my job, that gave me a hug, a smile, a few words… whatever it was, that helped me get past it. We helped each other. We are all in this together. Because if I wasn’t able to get past it, how would I continue to take care of other people, and give them all of me as their doctor?
Part of what we deal with on an almost daily basis in our jobs is death and sadness. You have to have a way to deal with these emotionally traumatic events. What is so important for me, like I said above, is to have a strong core of people around you for support, people with whom you can express your sadness, your thoughts, what you’re experiencing and feeling. It doesn’t make you less of a doc/nurse/health care PERSON to be a human being, and to feel hurt along with your patients. In fact, for many, I think it makes us a BETTER health care worker, to be perfectly honest with you.
However, on the other end of this spectrum, if you are at the point where you break down every time something horrible happens, and it is weighing on your life, and you are not COPING with these difficult situations in a healthy way, it will start to wear on you, emotionally and physically, and will quickly lead to burnout.
Try to make sure you have good support, close friends around who can listen to you. Don’t hold it in, talk about how you’re feeling. If you bottle it up, it is like a poison that will destroy you from the inside. I know when I went home that night I spoke to my husband about it. I called my mom and talked to her about it. For me, that helped. Find what works for you. What we do is an amazing amazing thing, and with anything like this, there will be soaring highs, crashing lows, and a whole lot of stuff in the middle. Find your way to stay healthy through it all.