Doctors Reveal How They Reacted After Their First Patient Died
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Doctors have a tremendously difficult job, often wrestling with the weight of life and death on any given day. As you can imagine, they're also expected to maintain their composure––even if they're having a hell of a time.

We were able to learn more once Redditor nilax1 asked: "Doctors of reddit, how did it feel seeing a patient die for the first time?"

"I lost my first patient..."

I lost my first patient before going to medical school. I was a medic in the Army and I was the first person to arrive on scene and do something (bunch of onlookers who seemed too stunned to do much were surrounding the patient).

I found this person unconscious and not breathing, so started CPR and directed others to go get 911.

Got the patient to hospital where they worked on them for another hour, to no avail.

Felt like a colossal failure, and felt like I was responsible for their death, because I couldn't help them.

Absolute devastation. Couldn't sleep for days, the nightmares were too vivid.

Absolutely destroyed my confidence. I had the knowledge base and could prove it in multiple ways, including my CPR Instructor certification and the fact that my students had gone on to use CPR to save lives was documented in the local paper.

Made no difference. I felt like I was personally responsible for that person's death.

The autopsy would go on to demonstrate that the person had a genetic heart condition and could have collapsed in the ER and the result would have the same.

I was consumed with abject misery and despair.

It took several days to regain my professional bearing and several years to ultimately forgive myself.


"As a medical student..."

As a medical student:

Got an EMS notification that they're coming in with a man vs. train. He rolls into the slot moaning, with a fast heart rate and low blood pressure. Badness. We call the blood bank to activate massive transfusion protocol. As we finish up the secondary survey, his heart slows down and really drops his pressures and we start CPR. I end up running to the blood bank and I'm sprinting back with a 30lb cooler full of blood products. I come back and the trauma surgeons have done a thoracostomy and they're doing cardiac massage. He eventually flatlines and time of death is called.

During the debrief immediately afterward, I looked back at him and saw his heart peeking out from behind his lungs, still wriggling. He might have been in fine vfib and not true a-systole, but he had extensive head wounds that really weren't survivable.

I took 30 seconds in the hallway to collect myself before walking through the doors and going back to my patients and explaining to them that yes, I do care about your runny nose and I'm sorry that I've been gone for so long.

I went back to the trauma slot about an hour later to get some supplies or something and the room was very clean and the body was covered with a sheet. There were a couple detectives asking some questions before they went to notify family. Really struck me how his death was the end of our job, but the start of a lot of hard jobs for other people.

Still think about it sometimes. Had a couple fatal traumas back to back on that rotation and I think it made me a lot more sombre- every happy moment is kind of colored by the knowledge that life is temporary. Memento mori I guess




It was during my palliative care term. Palliative care physicians try their best, but there are limits to what morphine and other drugs can achieve. There's a point in ageing and terminal diseases where we can't satisfactorily treat pain and other discomforts, like thirst and breathlessness (which feels like drowning, but over and over). A few patients were in so much pain they just wanted to pass, but we weren't allowed to facilitate that. So some patients are just sedated around the clock, awake for 1-2 hours a day but asleep the rest of the time.

The first patient I watched die was a lovely middle-aged woman with terminal cancer. She was in extreme pain and said she had been forced to watch herself lose everything, one by one - her career, her hair, her mobility, her house, her mind, her friends. She didn't feel like herself anymore and even around the time she died, she said she couldn't believe this is how it ended. She was frequently requesting to die near the end, and I was unexpectedly relieved when she finally got her peace. I felt very conflicted at the time, because I simultaneously liked her as person, yet wanted her to pass as a patient.



Overdose found in his mom's basement at 7am. I remember doing a ton of chest compressions on this 300lb guy in his 20's. I remember the nurse telling me I didn't look so good. I remember his mom stroking his hair and telling him it'll be alright. I remember I really really had to go to the bathroom. How did it feel? I was just really tired more than anything else.



Looked very peaceful.

Especially in comparison to what we put people through when they're in intensive care and we're hell-bent on not letting them die today.


"I feel like half the time..."

ICU nurse here. I feel like half the time I'm just torturing these poor old people because their family won't let us do what is best and let them naturally pass. They think they are being loving by having us do every thing we can to sustain life, when really it's the opposite.

I'm feeling bitter today because we had a family turn down palliative care on this tiny old man today because they want us to do everything we can.


"It felt cruel."

Cardiac arrest call put out on a ward where nurses were not used to resuscitating patients. I was first there, rest of team stuck in ED, anesthetist stuck in theatre. Flying solo trying to resuscitate a patient who really should not have been for resus, who was pulseless for god knows how long, and I was too junior to make the call to stop. It felt cruel.


"This guy..."

This guy was 100. Literally. But he was a vet, came in walking and talking (transfer from a VA), and I was just doing a quick screening on him after admission. His chart was excellent, given his age. He was talking to me as I checked his BP, and then, surprise, he had no BP. Me: "WTF?" He coded and we got him back, but he died the next day.


"I'm a doctor..."

I'm a doctor but.... Seriously.....

I don't actually feel anything...

Until I saw my best friend in high school dying in front of me. I never knew it was him until I saw the records. It hurt me real bad.


"A little..."

A little 7 year old boy named Stephen died after his dad's girlfriend stomped on him. I tried to CPR the little buddy, but he died on the way. I brought him a teddy bear and flowers at the hospital. RIP Stephen Michael Yates. 2/11/00 - 6/24/07 (He was my nephew) I cried super loud when he died even though I was 25.


DQ: What has been your hardest experience in the hospital?

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