Then again, detachment can help provide better care
"It’s sad to say, but we do become numb to it over time. It's a protective mechanism for us. Working at a trauma center, we see a fair amount of death. The majority of times I see death at work, it's a very detached feeling. I don't see a person; I see a problem -- a respiratory problem, a heart problem, a bleeding problem. It helps keep me separated from emotions, which allows me to do my job better.
"I hate the fact that it blunts my emotions, especially toward family members or friends that are sick. But we do have to blunt our reactions to be able to function in the world we do. You have to be very fast and agile with the work we do in the emergency room.
"We are a cynical bunch of assholes, but we are very good at our jobs and it is to the detriment of our own person. Anyone who denies that is in denial. Nobody can see the shit we do and not be affected by it. Nobody can go into combat and come out the same person they were."
-- Luke LeBas, MD, board certified in emergency medicine at an urban level 1 trauma center
It's horrible, but experience helps you process it better
"Without exception, it sucks. It's remarkably like getting the wind knocked out of you. You want to have done right by the other person. It's never cut and dry, and it's always a little messy, but if anything, it makes me work harder due to [death's] significance. Part of it is work ethic, but I like to think the majority of it is being a good person.
"As you become more comfortable with your role and how you process your emotions, you get a little better at it. More mature. I think it always sucks, but you are better able to take it in stride and glean from it the meaning you are supposed to without over or underreacting."
-- Michael Dietz, MD working in primary care in the VA system
"It's definitely harder at the beginning, I think. We believe so much in everyone working together, relying on staff, nurses, different specialties all communicating. A lot of time something happens, and you feel like the patient shouldn't have died. It's not only that someone died, but your system didn't work. When that happens, it's like you failed.
"One case I was on was in trauma surgery. The woman was stabbed pretty badly. We thought we could revive her and worked for hours. We cracked her chest to open her up for surgery. We tried to stop the bleeding and used 50 pints of blood on her. In the end, she didn't make it.
"They left me with her and some needle and thread and I sewed her back up. That was really hard. After that was done, it was 4am, and it was time to see my patients at 5am. I was up for 35 hours that day. You never forget it. You realize you have to move on. But it never leaves you."
-- Denise Capps, MS, fourth-year medical student class of 2016