I got to know one of our hospitalized patients fairly well during the last months of her life. Young and battling a deadly disease, she fought with every ounce of strength she possessed. In one of our conversations she told me she wasn’t ready to sleep; there was so much more to do. We talked about faith, the future, and what she wished for those she loved.
In a conversation with her long-time physician shortly after her death, he quietly said, “I’m sorry”.
At first I didn’t understand what he meant; then I realized he was apologizing to me for not being able to save this patient I had grown fond of. “You did all that you could,” I responded.
“But it wasn’t enough, was it?” he replied, as he walked away.
What a burden to carry – grief for those we cannot save from “the last enemy” death.
When Doctors Grieve, recently published in the New York Times, addresses this seldom discussed issue. “Do doctors grieve when their patients die? In the medical profession, such grief is seldom discussed — except, perhaps, as an example of the sort of emotion that a skilled doctor avoids feeling.”
It is a discussion worth bringing into the open.