The emotional toll of influenza

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Category : Medical Rants

As I tweeted yesterday, Huntsville Hospital has seen a large number of H1N1 influenza patients.  Some have died.  The sickest patients are relatively young (in their 20s and 30s) and have no previous illness.

Caring for the sickest patients puts great emotional stress on all health care workers.  House officers have always found such situations particularly distressing.  You meet a patient who seems to have many productive years ahead, and watch them spiral downhill over hours.  You make the right diagnosis, start the proper medications, yet the patient still dies.

You begin to dread caring for such patients.  We physicians can do a wonderful job caring for many patients and many diseases, but some diseases, and particularly some infections defeat our efforts.  So for the next few days we second guess ourselves.  What else could we have done?  Did we miss something?

We physicians tend to “beat ourselves up” over all bad outcomes, and hang on the belief that we might have done something different.  Unfortunately, in this epidemic, we will have some deaths regardless of our skills and enthusiasm.  That does not make us feel any better.  Doing our best just does not feel good enough.

Comments (1)

My sympathies to the families and staff, I have dealt with this issue and the clergy. Often a minister will be faced with a series of deaths, many times of the young due to an accident or illness. The results are emotionally draining as they look for some way t comfort the family and make sense of a senseless death.

My wife’s sister has entered the mental health field later in life and we just found out she is volunteering with the elderly as a means to relieve the stress of dealing with adults who are self destructive.

Today in our push a button, make it happen world, get over it world we forget the human aspect of being human and sharing both our grief and sorrow. Funerals are not for the dead but for the living as a place to express their sorrow, loss, and bewilderment at the passing of someone they knew and or loved.

Offer to buy someone a cup of coffee and let them talk. Do not be surprised if those lowest on the ladder are the most effected as they may have had the most contact with the patient. Family may over react as a means of covering some perceived failure to be involved.

When we fail to reach out on the most human level, we loose a bit more of our humanity.

Steve Lucas

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