Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Solemn Questions

Q: What's one way to make a macho, healthy young man cry and wail like a baby?

A: Tell him that the semi truck he crossed the centerline with killed an entire family in the minivan.

I don't recommend doing this. Trust me - it's not fun even just being around when something like this happens.

Talk about dropping a bomb. Just think of the stinging questions that this poor patient must have had swirling around in his head while his body shook with his sobs. "Will I go to jail?" "Are those cops here to arrest me?" "Am I a murderer?" "Will I ever be able to sit behind the wheel of a car again?" "What were their names?" "Where were they going today?" "How old were the kids?"

Who knows - maybe even he wondered,"Will I go to hell?" I'm not trying to be funny. Maybe that does go through the mind of someone who's just been told that it's not just their own blood on their hands. What would you think if you learned you've just snuffed out several other lives in the blink of an eye? That somewhere, sisters and grandparents and aunts and cousins are devestated; they'll be planning a group funeral for a young family? None of them were even sick, none of them should've died today or anytime soon, but they're gone now, all because of you.

Can you imagine having to deal with those questions? And after having to deal with so many other intense questions. "Why am I strapped to a back board?" "Why am I wearing a neck brace?" "Will I ever walk again?" "I make my living driving - will I ever drive again?"

"Are the other passengers hurt?"

That's the one question he asked out loud. Maybe he shouldn't have. Maybe the cop should've waited before he told the patient. Maybe there is no 'ideal' time to tell someone something like that. Here's a question - What's worse, anyways? Dying in a car accident, or living knowing that you killed someone? a bunch of people? And then later trying to get behind the wheel of a car again - to use again something you once turned into a weapon of mass murder?

I've already come to accept the fact that someday soon when I'm finally a doctor I'll be telling family members that their loved ones have passed, or don't have much time left on God's good earth. Not that accepting this fact will make it a walk in the park when that day comes. However, what happened today is one variation of such an event that I didn't foresee. I'm glad I came upon it as an observer, rather than being the informer.

I hope I never have to deal with it again.

Maybe now you can understand a bit that being in the ER for just a couple days has already made me ask more questions about myself.

"Should I really be eating this?" "Do I need to add this much salt?" "Should I choose a safer way to separate these frozen burgers?" "Do I really need to be driving this fast?"

Being in the ER has made me much more careful.

Because I've seen what could happen to me - or what I could do to someone else - if I'm not.


HP said...

A very thought-provoking post. What a tragedy.

Susan Palwick said...

Thank you for your compassion for everyone in this situation. You're clearly in the right field!

Anonymous said...

I think the cop could have waited until the guy was evaluated and treated before "dropping that bomb."

Although, by then the cop might be gone, and you, the med student, might have been given this painful task. (I hope your attendings aren't like that, but I've seen it happen)