The Case for the Jaded Doctor

I’ve already given a good lecture as to why I have a love-hate relationship with my current job. However, what I didn’t do was spend a lot of time talking about how my job has changed my psychology. So instead I decided to write an entire article about it. More specifically, the way that death has changed me and medical professionals everywhere.

    While becoming a C.N.A., I distinctly remember my instructor stating on the first day of class that we would only spend about half a day focusing on postmortem care and death. Two things struck me in that moment:

One: Holy shit, what did I just get myself into!?

Two: Why are we only spending half a day on this?

All I can actually remember being taught is that at times you need to roll a towel under the jaw to keep it shut, and moving a corpse is much more difficult than moving a living person. Both things at the time were quite morbid, though now they’re just a fact of life. However, not once were we taught to deal with the emotions surrounding someone passing. We’re taught to distance ourselves as much as possible from our residents. This ideology isn’t exclusive to C.N.A’s, though -- most any medical professional who has confrontations with death are taught the same thing. Yet, the reason a medical professional is good in the first place, is because they can empathize with a patient/resident. Making a death all the more damaging. So how is it that we’re supposed to cope? How are we even supposed to learn to get along when no one will talk about it?

    The answer is simple, albeit frustrating. The only way to learn to cope is to confront it head-on. In other words, you need to experience it to learn how to deal with it. The first time is always the most shocking, especially for individuals such as myself, who had never really had close interactions with death. You never quite know how someone will react; it’s frankly hard to predict how you yourself will react. In my case, I’d felt that full composition was an expected characteristic mostly due to my personality type. Thusly I’ve never once cracked in front of coworkers or family members/friends of my passed residents. I tried to be warm towards them, but as clinical as possible. In a TED science article titled “What Doctors Don’t Learn About Death and Dying,” Dr.Atul Gawande states that the first death is unique for everyone “ The first times, some cry. Some shut down. Some hardly notice.” All of which are coping mechanisms for the perceived failure presented to them. Death is indisputably a fact of life, the fear and anger stems from the irreversibility of it. It’s one of the only human experiences that can’t be reversed, and for a medical professional the goal is to give life, not let it be taken away.

    Why is it then that we’re not talking about how to deal with our own patient's clinical mortality? Frankly, I think it’s because medical professionals are taught to be perfect. There are few professions in the world where mistakes are as noticeable as they are in the medical field. Though it’s recognized that we cannot ever save someone from the inescapability of death, to receive someone in your care that you cannot save seems like the highest of failures. It’s the pressure bestowed upon us by society and ourselves to be immaculate that ends up creating a harsh exterior. While there is no excuse for a rude doctor, the next time your health care professional seems jaded, remember the realities they confront every day. With every patient, they hope that it was a good thing they were never taught about mortality.


TED Article:

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