Friday, May 21, 2010

A Sudden Emptiness

I recently found that three of the most challenging, difficult and at times sorely despised frequent fliers of my ER died within the last two weeks from narcotic overdoses. They were all young – in their early to mid-twenties. I have dealt with all three of them at some point during the past two years. Two of them tried to punch me (and missed). The other one threatened to find me and kill me as I was leaving work. I remember having my lost my temper at all of them and had kicked them all out of the department at one point or another. When I saw their names on the tracking board, I felt my spirit dampen because I just did not have it in me to deal with their drama for one more night after so many difficult and emotionally draining encounters.

And yet I am a little saddened by their passing. Their deaths were inevitable given their lifestyle. In fact, every time they survived an overdose, we were surprised that they managed to cheat death again. I don’t feel grief exactly. My life hasn’t changed in any significant way. But I still wonder who will mourn for them? I never saw them with friends or family members. It’s sobering to acknowledge that for all those times I wished I would never deal with them again, I now know I never will.


Albinoblackbear said...

We've had similar occurrences in ED's I've worked in in the past. I always felt bad as well for being driven to my wits end at times with these patients.

But I think one of the things that makes us feel sad for them is knowing that the ED was one of the few places that they did get decent treatment (food, place to sleep for the night sometimes, warm blankets, change of clothes, etc.).

It is sobering and sad to see the trajectory in these cases.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

It is sobering.

At the same time, I also know others, unfortunately, will replace them in the queue of lives going no where.

And some cold part of me see it as at least we're done wasting money on them.

L said...

Our neuro/stroke ward has added gastro as well, so we get alot of alcoholics. Up until recently, I had issues nursing alcoholics, having been a partner of one for 10years. As much as I resented having to nurse them, knowing full well of their poor prognosis of 2 months max, and that we were wasting our time, 3 of them ended up dying. I was surprised at our saddened I felt when they died, one of my shift. At the end of the day we are only human, and perhaps underneath the anger and resentment, lies our well of compassion.

Anonymous said...

Addicts and alcoholics are hard to care for and hard to care about - and they leave a lot of pain and damage in their paths as they move through life. They really challenge us to see beyond the surface, to care, to refrain as best as we can from judgment, to not lose our own compassion for others, to keep having hope that next time will be different, that the mess will get a bit better, etc.
Some do lack empathy for their impact on others, many are deeply ashamed and can't find a way out of the hole they have dug for themselves.

RehabNurse said...


I feel the same about some of our people who absolutely give up because they can't stand the image of having a spinal cord injury. Their self-worth is so tied up in what they perceive themselves to be (big muscle man, wild and crazy party animal) that they cannot for one minute believe that they have control of their minds, and we can assist them in getting control of some other things they've lost.

They lose everything and throw in the towel. Those are the saddest ones...they didn't have to die; they wanted to die.

Anonymous said...

There is a young woman who is brought into our ER on a fairly regular basis whose body can tolerate blood alcohol levels of (I am not kidding) 400, 450 without difficulty. She is very pretty, and unfailingly polite. She'll be dead within five years at this rate, so I feel oddly glad when she arrives, as drunk as she is. Because it means she hasn't died yet.

So, maybe, it's because while they're still alive, somewhere we believe there's still hope?

Anonymous said...

Some people are just better off dead. That lessons the chance they will kill an innocent person during one of their "indulgences" ....

burned-out medic said...

i always miss my regulars if i don't see them regularly.

and as soon as one of them goes, another one pops up to replace him/her.