Tearing Up

Tonight I teared up.

Not a pro reaction, but EM docs have emotions, too. Sometimes they show up, uninvited. The trick is not to let anybody know about it.

I was asked to assist a colleague with a wound closure (suturing) with his patient. (This is a completely normal request, and one of the reasons my job is wonderful: I ask my colleagues to help me with time-intensive procedures when I’m busy, and they reciprocate. The patients get more timely care, and we don’t have delays over procedures).

On entering the trauma room I noticed the patient had a severe problem: the vent was a clue, and the bolt sealed the impression: Very Sick Individual.

The laceration was ready to go, and I introduced myself to the family at the bedside. They were an elderly couple, completely devistated at the injury their child, one day past the 16th birthday, had just sustained. A closed head injury, from falling off a 4 wheeler, one of those gadgets seemingly designed to throw people off at high speeds. The patient is in a coma, and the parents are trying to cope with their acute reality. A severely brain injured child. Lives changed in an instant.

It’s hard to suture while your eyes are teary listening to “come back to us, sweetie, come back…” We EM docs, as a group, like to put up a brave front, but we’re human.

The wound closure was perfect. My eyes dried quickly.

The patient won’t ever be the same. Me either.


  1. I am awed by your experience and your compassion.


  2. Damn. Tears are OK, Doc.

  3. I’m glad I don’t get involved with trauma that much.
    What’s especially hard is that many times in the background, you know the organ donation team has gotten involved.

  4. Sometimes it is surprising to patients that doctors are actually human with human emotions who really do want to see the best outcome for them. It is so tragic to look at the faces of the lives permanently changed in a single instant with very little that can be done to change their destiny. A kind word, a gentle touch, and the gift of your tears are sometimes all that can be given, which feels so inadequate.

    Feeling overwhelmed by your emotions in that moment is exactly why the world needs doctors like you.

  5. I too am an ER doc. I have cried driving home so many nights.

  6. Kudos to you, GruntDoc. We are human beings first, after all, and doctors second.

  7. *Whew*

    I tend to believe that families appreciate our identifying with them and being compassion. I’ve written about this before and know that when I have been in for care for my children–or myself–that makes a big difference.

    It’s a sad reality that our tears can’t change life-threatening or life-changing outcomes, but it keeps us human.


  8. I am living proof that while she may never be totally the same, she may be substantially less damaged than you think. My accident was on a bike, but I didn’t wake up for over a day and half. It took me over two years to get the nerve to get on a bike again, over 10 to learn to write left-handed again and I still can’t play the piano or sew because I can’t make my hands do two different rhythms/actions at the same time. But I can walk and talk and parent and I know that I have had a miraculous recovery. This girl will be in my prayers. It’s a long road back, but it’s worth the work.
    God bless you for what you do. ER docs are my heroes.