The Lancet Student

Bearing the Burden

This blog was submitted by Mike on 8th March 2012.
Tagged with Death Emergency Education Mentoring

Because I am known as a Physician Assistant that was involved in trauma and emergency care before I went to medical school, I often get questions and requests for advice. Recently I got a unique request. This past week I got a wonderful email from a young Emergency Medical Technician Student, struggling with how to deal with death:

“Hi Mr. Moore,

My name is ***. I'm told that *** has filled you in on how I'm taking an EMT course, and how I'm really involved in a local fire department. I absolutely love every aspect of EMS. To be called in the middle of my day to help someone who is in need is amazing! But unfortunately, not all of the calls end well, and that is what I'm struggling with. When someone dies, even if I don't know them, I have an extremely difficult time… So with your past experience, do you have any advice you could pass along to me? It would be greatly appreciated because I would love to make a career out of this!

Thanks,
*******”

My response was:

“******,

Thanks for asking me this question. I really feel honored that you are coming to me for advice. You are showing an exceptional amount of insight into how death affects us as people. Don't feel bad. First, death is something that comes to us all. You know this intellectually I'm sure, but you need to understand it emotionally as well. Having the courage to face death, as I am sure you have found, is a way to be a great comfort to the people around you. So really my advice is to be in the moment for those that are suffering. So many people just repress the things that they are feeling, distance themselves from it, and because of their fear they lose a great opportunity to care for and express love to people in a moment of extreme need, regardless of whether it is someone that is dying, or a survivor of the event. If you are afraid, you can't do that. It takes courage, guts, resolve to stand firm in the face of death. Because when you do that, by extension, you recognize and face your own.
So again, the best way to deal with it is to face it head on, not try to hide or deny it...but instead use it for what it is, a wonderful opportunity to care for others in the moment of their most dire need...and by doing so, in a way you minister to yourself as well. Death is never easy, the more you process, the better off you will be.

I hope I helped.

--Mike”

Of course, I asked their permission to share this…not really because of my answer, though I did try to give the best answer that I could muster. What I really wanted to share was this Student’s amazing question. So many times we throw students into situations and we never really talk about how they may be affected by the things they will see. I marveled at this young student’s insight and how they were teaching me what I should be looking for as I mentor students. I was being taught that I should be proactive in dealing with issues of stress, trauma, and death with my students and peers without being asked. It took a lot of courage and insight to ask the question I was asked, to admit that it was a difficult thing to experience. I should be bearing that burden for those I want to mentor. Not make them bring that burden to me on their own.