Sometimes a ‘Good Death’ Is the Best a Doctor Can Offer
Despite everything we do, we have lost so many battles with Covid-19
There has been so much clinician distress with the Covid-19 pandemic. So many physicians, nurses, and health care professionals have suffered physical, emotional, and moral difficulty taking care of severely sick patients. Some have even committed suicide.
As an ICU physician, I feel this firsthand and believe the reason for the anguish is that we, as critical care doctors and nurses and health professionals, are used to making a difference in the lives of our critically ill patients. Yes, we do lose some patients despite all that we do. But, for the most part, the majority of the patients we see and care for in the ICU get better and survive their critical illness.
Covid-19 has upended all of that.
Before Covid, I would not think twice about placing someone on a ventilator. It is a life-saving measure. With Covid, however, many patients who go on ventilators never come off. This is very distressing.
It is just so hard to try and try and try — spending many waking and sleeping hours — to help these patients pull through, only to have them die on you. Many times, the deaths are expected. Sometimes they are not, and those deaths are the most difficult to bear.
We are used to seeing death in the ICU. It is inevitable that some patients, despite all that we do, are going to die. With Covid, however, it is different. So many have died, and what makes it so hard is that these people are dying alone. Their families are only left to watch them die, if they so choose, on FaceTime or Skype. I’ve lost a daughter to critical illness. I cannot imagine the horror of not being able to be there at her side.
I was speaking to a fellow ICU doctor, and he told me that it seems all he is doing in the ICU is ensuring a “good death” for his patients, and this has deeply bothered him. He is not used to this amount of death. None of us are. It is very, very hard.
Is there any such thing as a “good death”?
It seems oxymoronic that the words “good” and “death” can be juxtaposed. As doctors, our whole existence is to prevent our patients from…