I recently read a post from Pamela Wimble’s blog. It was a letter from a physician who survived attempted suicide. He describes untreated PTSD due to work and volunteer experiences as a physician. He treated a patient who, despite correct care, went on to die. He was devastated. Due to a complaint regarding the case, he was told by his employer that though they supported him, they had to fire him. Because of the bad outcome and complaint. He was naturally upset, but spoke with is wife and felt he was doing fine. He cried alot, for the patient, for the patient’s family, for himself. He says in his personal life he was as happy as he had ever been. Even with work he never thought of himself as suicidal or even depressed. He writes he just unexpectedly snapped, and then he made his decision. It wasn’t just this one case. It was all the loss, all the trauma before.
He wrote to his wife “I’m so sorry. You deserve better. I have tried to be strong. I can’t take it any more. To have that girl die was too much. To have to face being terminated for it? I can’t go on. I’m sorry. I love you to the end of the world and back but after one final hurt, I can finally stop hurting you. You have your family and church to help you and you have your finances taken care of.”
But he didn’t die. He says it was through a series of miracles. And he is sharing his story to save others. People like us. People, not robots or superhumans, people- working in healthcare- who may not even know we are hurting.
His story is chilling to me. If you didn’t click on the link above, here it is again, read it.
I had chills when I read it because I saw myself. I saw myself as at risk for something I never thought I could have been at risk for. I had PTSD. I fought my psychiatrist on my need for any help. I told her I was strong enough. That I should be able to handle more hurt than a “regular person.” I could have been him. Instead of hyperventilating outside a room where a neonatal death happened or screaming at my spouse, I could have snapped and committed suicide. You may say it’s dramatic to say something like that. But the risk is real. Just like we tell our patients they are at risk of this or that complication and they almost laugh because it hasn’t happened to them or someone they know, but we know the risk is real because we treat it everyday. This risk is real for us. 400+ physicians a year.
With any adverse outcome, there is typically a way to prevent it or reduce the risk. That’s Pamela Wimble’s passion! Michael, the physician who survived suicide and wrote the letter says “Almost every day, since that worst day, my wife just looks at me and repeats ‘I can’t believe it even happened!’ The people I’ve told about this are utterly shocked. I have spoken with a few residents I used to teach and they can’t believe it. I can’t either. Could happen to any doctor. Seemingly without warning.” Sometimes there is no warning. Sometimes there are warning signs that we refuse to listen to because we have been brainwashed to think we are invincible doctors. Sometimes we can’t even see or feel the warning signs because we have ignored our own inner lives for so long we can’t hear our hearts and our souls weeping.
So, I will keep rediscovering my own self, the one I put on the shelf during medical school and training. And my family, my patients, and my own well being will benefit. I encourage you to do the same. Only then will we be ready to change the broken system that contributes to this risk of suicide. It really could have been any of us. But is doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be.