Dramatic Photo Shows ER Doctor Grieving After Losing 19 Year-Old Patient

March 19, 2015

A photo of an ER doctor grieving over the loss of a 19 year-old patient has emerged on the social network Reddit this morning. It's a heartbreaking reminder to appreciate the everyday heroes who dedicate their lives to saving complete strangers.

doctor outside hospital after losing patient
Credit: NickMoore911

"The man pictured was unable to save one of his patients. Though this is a common occurrence in our field of work, the patients we lose are typically old, sick, or some combination of the two. The patient that died was 19 years old, and for him, it was one of those calls we get sometimes that just hits you," wrote EMT worker and reddit user NickMoore911. "Within a few minutes, the doctor stepped back inside, holding his head high again."

And if the picture wasn't enough, the comments that followed will really hit deep:

ER doctor here. We are trained for years during residency to preserve life. We do it as much as we can, and resuscitation becomes so ingrained in us that work becomes machine-like. We empathize with our patients, yes, but we put our own emotions to the side. Because if we felt any swing in emotion - whether it be anger, extreme sadness, or pride - that might impair the way we care for the next patient we see.

Patients will come and go - we will save a lot of them, but some we cannot save. And it's at this moment, this one moment, that we actually feel.

I know I'm speaking in general here, and I know that we aren't all the same. However, when it comes to our work, nothing is harder - and I mean nothing - than telling a loved one that their family member is dead. Give me a bloody airway to intubate. Give me the heroin addict who needed IV access yesterday, but no one can get an IV. Give me the child with anaphylaxis. But don't give me the unexpected death.

The patient might die. We can only do so much, and we can only hope to do our best. But it's that moment, when you stop resuscitation, and you look around, you look down at your shoes to make sure there's no blood on them before talking with family, you put your coat back on and you take a deep breath, because you know that you have to tell a family that literally the worst thing imaginable has happened. And it's in that moment that I feel. And I feel like the guy in this picture.

Another reddit user added:

"My dad is an ER doctor, and has been for as long as I've been alive, always working nights. He doesn't usually talk about patients, but he would talk about the gross things he's had to deal with around the dinner table with the family.

The times that I do remember though, however rare they were, were the times he would come home, and cry in my mothers arms because there was someone that he couldn't save no matter how hard he tried... He didn't think any of us kids were watching, but I seemed to always see. I've never had more respect for my dad then when I would see him cry because he felt like he could have done more... Even if he couldn't have."

An engineer contributed:

I'm an engineer. I was working for a small startup for a while and we were developing a new digital tool for tracheal intubation. It was supposed to help a doctor intubate a patient faster and with less discomfort to the patient. We had interviews with doctors where we discussed the tool at length, what they wanted in the tool, what would make their job easier.

We had a prototype we were pretty proud of. It seemed to work very well in initial tests. We got approval to use it in the field. The doctors who might be using it were all trained on how to use it, and were good with it on volunteers.

For the actual live test, we were basically told to spend a full day in the ER and watch without being a distraction. We were there to wait until someone maybe had an opportunity to use our tool and then document how they used it.

Doctor got a message of an incoming patient. He said there was a chance he would be using our tool. Sure enough a patient gets rushed in and he's looking REALLY bad. Blood everywhere, bags of blood dangling empty above him. They replace the blood, the doctors start going to town on him. I mean just ripping at him and pinching and clamping and cutting like he's a turkey or something. I was a bit overcome with the whole thing. Pretty shortly thereafter the doctor grabs the tool, puts it in the patient's mouth, fidgets with it for a second, and says "shit!" and throws it on the ground and grabs an ordinary scope and tube. My emotions were so conflicted. I was watching a scene of horror, yet what disturbed me was the tool that my team had spent the past 12 months working on. The prototype alone that was now on the floor, probably broken, amounted to thousands of hours of assembly. Doctors and nurses were almost stepping on it. All that work. They didn't even use it. I couldn't grab it. I couldn't get in the way. I was so frustrated and pissed off. I wait. I have to. I'm there for the scope. I start to get upset. Really upset. This doctor who had spent hours with me talking about the minutia of the details of this device had tried it for one second and then thrown it on the ground.

The patient ended up dying after about 3 hours. The doctor, to my untrained eye, gave up early. Sweat pouring from his brow, he let out a loud and pathetic sigh, and threw his arms down and walked away. The heart monitor was still showing a faint pulse. Not for long. The other nurses and doctors stopped too.

Now I was really kinda upset. He threw my life on the ground and then let someone die. What kind of cold doctor was this. I went back to the other room to demand to know what happened. When I got in the room he had his head in his hands. He was ever so gently crying. I've never had my emotions snapped backwards so quickly in my life.

My entire perspective on this doctor was wrong. He didn't care about my tool, and he didn't care about my feelings, but it was because he only cared about his patient . . . who died. As an engineer I looked at the doctor's needs as features in a gadget. In my mind a doctor's job was hard because he can't push a button and have a tube crawl down someone's airway automatically. That wasn't the problem. That wasn't the difficult part of a doctor's day. I think I said something stupid like "thanks for trying." I think he realized from the meek tone of my voice that I was a bit taken aback, and he kinda perked up a bit and said "there are good days too . . . wait for them."

Crazy job. I couldn't do it.

And this user summed it up beautifully:

And in the end, when the life went out of him and my hands could work no more, I left from that place into the night and wept - for myself, for life, for the tragedy of death's coming.

Then I rose, and walking back to the suffering-house forgot again my own wounds for the sake of healing theirs.

See the full thread on reddit. The doctor's identity and patient's name is not revealed for privacy reasons. This post is only to shed some light on the everyday heroes in the medical field.

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