Acknowledging feelings and asking for support may help when dealing with loss.
Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | March 22, 2022 | 1 min read
By Elissa Abou Khalil, MD, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
The first time I experienced the loss of a patient was when I was on call as a med student on the general surgery service. I rushed to a patient coding in the CT scan room, who was an 18-year-old with a history of multiple refractory autoimmune diseases. An hour later, she was declared dead by the team. Her father was sitting in the waiting room, staring blankly at the wall. “She was too young to die,” he told me.
The next day when my mom asked me out to lunch, I felt frustrated. “How is everyone acting normal while a father is grieving the loss of his child?” I asked myself.
Three years later, I was part of a team taking care of a 33-year-old woman who suffered from multiple post-operative complications following a sleeve gastrectomy procedure. She’d been in the hospital for more than four months and felt scared and hopeless. I spent days by her bedside changing her wound dressings, checking her labs, and offering comfort. And I listened to her stories about life in London and her favorite music.
A couple of weeks after the rotation ended, I learned that she’d passed away. When I saw her surgeon, I offered my condolences. I was surprised by his simple and honest answer. He said, “It hurts to lose a patient after giving care for a long time and getting to know them.” His words helped me feel like I had permission to grieve. Here’s what I learned from that experience:
1. Acknowledge feelings and sit with them.
2. Be vulnerable.
Share your feelings with coworkers, team, family, and/or friends.
3. Ask for help.
Tell others what you need and how they can support you.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.