We lose patients. As doctors, we lose patients every day. Sometimes those losses are expected, and we have had time to prepare the patient, their loved ones, and ourselves for that inevitable moment when that last breath is heavily sighed. Those are the best of times- when we can say our goodbyes and provide a little bit of comfort to those whose lives are ending. I am so thankful that I am able to do this for my patients and their families; it is the greatest honor of my job.

And sometimes we lose patients quickly. Death swoops in with a chaotic fury. There is no time for family and loved ones to prepare for this. It hits them immediately like a freight train. In these times I want so much to be not a doctor, but just a human being, and it is very hard to maintain the distance that is needed to preserve the duties of my job.  The distance that allows us to look you in the eye and tell you that person you loved the very best is gone forever.  Our tears and our grief will not help you in that moment, our job is to keep it together for as long as possible so that you can fall apart, and we will help to catch you. How many times have I crouched in the hall, the stairwell, the darkened corner and finally let free those tears?

We carry our patients and our experiences with us for our entire careers. Every physician will be able to tell you the exact story of the first patient that died under their care.  And that same day, every physician took a moment for themselves, put a smile onto their face and went into the room of their next patient. Because we have many other patients and families relying on us.  But when we go to bed at night and wake up the next morning, and the morning after that, we will still be thinking of those patients that we lost. Their names, their memories, their stories will be etched in our minds forever. They will inform every decision we make for the rest of our careers. We will continue to tell our patients’ stories, and they will never be forgotten.


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