During my internal med rotation, I experienced some very difficult losses. I cared for several animals that were very, very loved by their families and who unfortunately succumbed to their disease processes while way too young. As someone who loves animals enough to go to veterinary school and has also dealt with a pet having a painful and difficult to diagnose disease, losing these patients was really hard for me. I’m not going to sugar coat it; I had a very hard time. I know that losing patients is unfortunately a part of this profession, but that doesn’t make it any less painful to experience.
The biggest thing I learned on internal medicine was not about pharmacology or physiology, though those things are important too. I learned that it’s okay to feel for your patients. It’s okay to cheer on their successes, and it’s okay to be sad when your treatment doesn’t work, despite doing everything possible. All of these emotions, the happy and the sad, just show that we care. It shows that we are human. It shows we are here to help however we can.
I was in the busy ICU when I found out one of my patients hadn’t made it. I ran out in tears trying to compose myself. One of the interns, a young veterinarian herself, followed me into the hall to make sure I was okay. She gave me a hug, and told me I was strong enough to handle this. In that dark moment, I needed someone with more experience than me to show me the way through. I am so thankful for people like her who check in on the people around them. We need more people like her in this world. It’s okay to support your colleagues around you, and it’s okay to accept their support.
An important thing I learned from my internal med clinician was that when you receive difficult news, it is important to allow yourself to process that information. Take five to ten minutes to allow yourself that time to grieve and think. It’s tempting to try to bury all these feelings, but that’s not a healthy way to deal with emotions. Use that time to experience your emotions, and then compose yourself, because there are other patients that still need you. It’s okay to process your emotions.
Losing a patient is never easy, and it shouldn’t be. That said, it’s so important to let yourself process this in a healthy way. This isn’t just good for you, it’s good for your patients and the other people around you. You can’t care for others if you aren’t okay yourself. For whoever needs to read this: it’s totally okay to feel for your patients. It’s okay to lean on the people around you when you need support, and it’s okay to process your emotions instead of just burying them inside. I learned a lot about medicine on my first two weeks of clinics, but I definitely learned more about processing the emotional burden of this career.