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This is a question Have you ever seen a dead body?

How did you feel?
Upset? Traumatised? Relieved? Like poking it with a stick?

(, Thu 28 Feb 2008, 9:34)
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Yes, a great many . . .
and the reactions many and varied.
As is posted on my profile, I'm a training surgeon (Orthopaedics). So, I've been a medical student (dead bodies and dissection - yes, formaldehyde STINKS), the brand new intern who does the night shift certifying those who have dies in their sleep, the resident/registrar who works in Emergency and watches those who come in trying very hard to die - some do, some don't. I now work at a major trauma hospital in Melbourne (gee, not many of those) and get to see just how close to dead people can get, and still be breathing. Death as a concept does not make me a quivering mess, nor has it turned me into a robot. I don't baulk at touching a dead body.
Also, as an adult of 32, I have lost 1 uncle, 3 grandparents (natural causes) and at least 3 colleagues (all suicides).

Credentials sorted, what perspective can I give you on death?


It's possibly one of the few events in life that inspires almost the entire spectrum of emotion (perhaps together with birth).
It is the great leveller - we all arrive naked and screaming into this world, and all we have on leaving is our family, friends and our past deeds to commemorate us.
It can be a violent, peaceful, humorous, relieving, tedious, welcome, feared, revered, abhorred, celebrated, catastrophic, overwhelming and unexpected event.

My stories of death and dead bodies? I will relate only two: both work-related - one which gave me nightmares for a very long time, and one which made me ashamed of myself. Deaths in my family have been mostly unexpected and in one case, I'm ashamed to say I didn't actually like one of my relatives. So, being a good girl and not speaking ill of the dead (see Mum? I do listen on occasion), here are two stories from Mrs Legless: newbie doctor.

Story the first:
Internship - country hospital, run by 5 interns who worked day/night shifts alternating. Trauma call one Friday - 4WD vs stationwagon. Seeing as I have a night off, I wander into Emergency to help with the work (we helped each other in that job).
I was given a brief rundown of the accident - high speed, drunk driver vs car with a family on holiday. Drunk driver - broken jaw; Father in other car - airlifted to Melbourne: bilateral amputations of his legs. Daughter - internal injuries: transferred to Children's Hospital. Mother and 16 year old son, deceased. Would you please go and certify the deceased in the morgue Anna? So - off I go.
Inside 2 plastic bags are two bodies - a young mother and her son. Both of them look like they could have been asleep (no external injuries - they died due to cervical spine injuries). Both look healthy, whole and are still dressed in their ordinary clothes. But they are dead. No pulse, no breathing, no response to sternal pressure. Had they been covered in blood, deformed in the limbs or trunk, perhaps with obvious trauma I might have felt less unnerved. As it was, I became an insomniac for about a month afterward - all I could see was this young Mum and her son: alive one minute travelling from NSW on holiday, dead the next - being stored in a freezer, like cargo. Thankfully I was excused from a court appearance (the drunk appealed against 2 manslaughter charges), but I slept with the lights on until I returned to Melbourne in June.

Story the Second:
I spent almost six months working in Emergency in an Eastern suburbs hospital, well known for its drug-seeking population. One full moon (ever notice nutters come to ED during a full moon?), one young girl was brought in - heroin OD, trying very, very hard to die. A senior and I get to work, making her breathe again, trying to find out what other shit she had in her veins, and giving her the right antidote for it. During a lull in proceedings, I glanced through her notes.
Personality disorder, anxiety. Multiple suicide attempts - more that 10. Self-harm. Six year old daughter, custody issues - apparently the little girl found her again this time.
Lovely, I think. Looks like she tried it out again tonight. "Pity she didn't do it properly - a bigger dose, and no one to call the ambulance" I say to my colleague. "Save us the trouble of having to bring back her sorry arse from the dead each time."

Think about what you just said Anna.

Is this girl less of a human being than the wholesome family that was destroyed a few months ago?

Doctors - we don't deal with death any better that all of you . . . we can be just as empathetic, just as clueless, just helpless . . .
(, Fri 29 Feb 2008, 10:59, 5 replies)
...and just as human
I'm sure with people like that you do on occasion feel like you're banging your head against a brick wall.

Hava a *click*
(, Fri 29 Feb 2008, 11:10, closed)
Strange how death can illicit so many reactions...
I don't know what else to say, really. I suppose that when someone makes so many attempts to take their own life they must be in a very bad way. But on the other hand, to continually fail to 'succeed' during every attempt also says something - cry for help, maybe?

I've been guilty myself, on hearing that someone has died, of thinking, 'well, so what? I didn't like them when they were alive, so I'm not going to mourn them when they're dead'. But I try to remember that that person was something to someone, and leave it at that.
(, Fri 29 Feb 2008, 11:19, closed)
One of those first glance things
I read the start of the main body (hah) of the story as "speculum of emotion". Knew it couldn't be right, but thought it fitted in with the medical nature of the tale. >click< just for that...
(, Fri 29 Feb 2008, 12:01, closed)
Can't help being human
There's you and your colleagues on one side trying to undo the damage that this girl did on purpose. And the girl who obviously has bigger problems than can be solved in the ER/ A&E.

You don't want to think of your time/skills/energy and emotion being wasted by someone who for whatever reason doesn't want to stay alive.

If a Drunk-Driving victim comes in at the same time as the drunk driver did and both were critical and you could only work on one - which one do you work on? that's a philosophical question but I think it would be a natural human instinct to try and help the "innocent" victim before the person that got behind the wheel while drunk.

Good on you for doing what you do!
(, Fri 29 Feb 2008, 14:39, closed)
I think the hippocratic oath means that doctors treat whoever is more critical; a murderer near death would get treatment before a nun not hurt as badly.

Can Mrs Legless confirm that's right?
(, Mon 3 Mar 2008, 15:03, closed)

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