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The circle of life

The ultimate oxymoron is that death is just as much a part of life as living is.

You don't realise it until someone close to you dies, and that moment can come to define your memories of that person. When my grandma died it was a slow, but dignified process. She was not in pain, and we were able to be by her bedside as she drifted away. I count myself lucky, as her death didn't overshadow my memories of her life. Some people have a much less dignified death that can have a life long effect on their friends and family.

I am writing this after listening to the doctors and nurses on my ward desperately try to save the life of another patient. The apparent ease at which the patient's heart stopped and started made me realise that the line between life and death is so fine, and this patient was straddling that line for about 40 minutes before he passed away. Although his family didn't have the honour, like i did with my grandma, of being around his bedside as he peacefully passed away, i hope they take comfort in the fact that he was surrounded by a team of nurses and doctors who were working hard to save him. I hope they also take comfort in the fact that the process of hospital resuscitation isn't as traumatic and lacking in dignity as we are led to believe on shows like ER or Casualty.

It is also interesting to observe how the staff react. I overheard a clearly upset porter who had brought the patient back to the ward from x-ray moments before the patient 'crashed'. Clearly this was her first experience of death, and she was being counselled by a colleague. His advice to her was "if you're not upset by the death of a patient, you're in the wrong job". What a very telling sentence, he is clearly the right person to be working in a hospital.

When a patient dies i can imagine that those involved in that persons care will begin to analyse their contact with them. Did I do everything right? Is there anything more i could have done? Did i let my patient down? These are normal reactions, but how we deal with them can determine to what extent we experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a complex topic, and i do not intend to go into it in detail here. However, what i have learned from experience, and from some training, is that the difference between someone who does experience PTSD and someone who doesn't, is the level of support their receive, and the amount they talk about the incident. Bottling feelings up is a sure fire way to end up in PTSD-town. I hope the doctors and nurses involved in this patients care have someone they can talk to about it.

The family have a long period of bereavement ahead of them. The only way to get through it is by taking it one day at a time.