Posts 2020-08-30


I remember my first code. I was a third year medical student on surgery, doing one of our two required 28-hour shifts. We ran to a code on the ninth floor, and got in line for compressions. During them, I remember looking down at the patient’s face and feeling a sense of deep-seated horror. (“I can see thestrals now,” I remember thinking.) When we finally called the code, the mood in the room was eerily light– discussions about what movies they would be watching, the snacks in the break room, jokes about being out of shape. I felt like I was the only one affected by the fact that someone had just died before our eyes.

Now, in my third year of residency, I’ve seen countless people die. After the patient passes, I have to get back to work, and there is little time to process what happened, and, probably to the chagrin of my medical student self, almost little need. There are deaths that definitely affect me more than others, patients that I think about almost every day… but for the most part death seems to just be part of the job. I almost forgot what it felt like to witness death for the first time, but sometime last year, I saw a couple of medical students huddled together after a code, weeping. And of course they were. Most people don’t see what they saw.

I just had a conversation with my friend, Akila (@keels.raja, thanks for inspiring this comic) who is currently a medical student, about this phenomenon. As healthcare workers, we can easily fall into the trap of seeing our patients as work. I’ve seen attendings take a moment of silence for patients when they die, directly addressing the tragedy of what we’ve witnessed. I’m going to take on this practice as well, and will continue debriefing with my students/ interns/ coresidents after we lose patients. What else do you guys do to debrief after death?

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This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.