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The first time I pronounced a patient…

I was just reading on another thread about the sadness an intern experienced after pronouncing her very first patient dead. 

On many levels, we, as intern (first year) physicians, are ill prepared for the experience. Truthfully, no one can prepare you for how you will be affected. And very few people realize the grief and trauma that a physician goes through during this time. 

I smiled as I read the post because it took me back to July 2000 when I was an intern. 

My first pronouncement was a different kind of trauma….

It is about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and the nurse pages me to pronounce a patient. I arrive on the floor shortly afterwards, and she directs me to the room. There is bright moonlight streaming in through the window. So much so that I decided that I didn’t need to turn on the lights (first mistake). The nurse asks if I need the light.  “No, I think I’ll be ok. The dead can’t hurt you, right?” 

The thing that no one tells you about is the silence that death brings to a room. There is nothing like it. No sounds of breathing or feet shuffling under sheets. No beeping of IV infusion or blood pressure being measured. Nothing. I go about my exam and confirm that the patient is indeed, dead. I note the time, and prepare to leave the room. 

When I turned my back, I hear a loud exhale. Knowing that I was the only person in the room breathing, and that this sound did not come from me, I was immediately terrified. So much so, that I, in my need to get he hell outta there as fast as I could, yanked the door open and smacked myself square in the forehead!  I screamed out in pain. Of course, this knocked me back a bit and, in the dark (HUGE mistake), I couldn’t see what I could grab on, so I took out a few shelves and sent the patient ‘s things flying about the room. 

There was an awful lot of ruckus in a room with only one living person in it! 

When I finally emerged from the room, the nurse is looking at me with this wide grin. “Lights next time, Dr. Hines.” Then she handed me an ice pack for the goose egg forming on my forehead. 

So the lessons from that night, that I still remember 15 years later…

1. The dead can’t hurt you, but they can make you hurt yourself.

2. Just turn on the light.

3. Listen to the nurse. 
So you see, I’ve been having #shenanigans right from the very beginning! LOL

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