In a recent article, Lisa Esposito of Yahoo Health (5/23/12), reported on a study of 20 cancer doctors in three Ontario hospitals. The doctors reported how they dealt with their grief, or avoided it, and how it affected their personal and professional lives.
As professionals, physician work within the twin parameters of maintaining professional distance, without maintaining too much distance. Should the patient die, to have become too close can produce too great an emotional loss. Yet, if they remain too distant, their patient feels they’re not being a very good physician. One response is to compartmentalize the hospital work, to wall yourself off emotionally. Unable to compartmentalize, some oncologists found sleeping or enjoying their family difficult.
Caring for the dying, however, has benefits. Some doctors found they gained a better perspective on life. After a loss, some doctors also found they determined to better care for the living.
The realistic demands of patient care leaves little or no time for the doctor to grieve. After a few minutes to ponder your loss, you’ve got to get on to the next patient, who eagerly awaits–and needs– your help.
While oncologists face difficulty grieving, we also do. Loathe to use the words “die,” or “death,” I’ve observed we instead say, “pass on,” or even just “passed.” Listen for yourself and see if you notice others say the same thing. What do you say?