How do medical people cope with this?

There is a very sad story going on in my city. A five year old girl was being driven my her mother to visit the father. It was late at night. For whatever reason, gunshots rang out, hit the car, and the little girl was shot through the head, hopefully never knowing what happened to her.

She was rushed to the hospital and put on life support. The parents made the decision to take her off, but she stayed on the machines for 48 hours so doctors, with parental consent, could organize organ donations. It seems she had a rare blood type making her body even more valuble and needed than usual. Even body parts that are not always taken were harvested, so the poor thing was basically dissected.

My question is, how do medical professionals deal with what must be incredible mental stress, doing this to a five year old? Sure, she will be giving maybe a dozen other people a chance at a better life, does that help? They may have kids of their own, would this make it harder?

The sorrow and mental anguish must be overwhelming, how can they shut that off so they can do their jobs?

Just to clarify, are you asking how the transplant surgeons deal with harvesting the organs?

I’m wondering about how the medical team deals with the feelings/emotions of harvesting organs from a child like this, not the technical aspects. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

Several years ago, I worked as a psychologist on a pediatric oncology unit. It seemed to me that most staff coped by either being glad that they weren’t part of the grieving family, or by being very detached emotionally.

There isn’t much support for medical staff. Several years ago, I wrote an article for Hematology and Oncology News about the grieving physician.

Edit, sorry, I thought you were asking about dying kids in general.

Well, from a medical standpoint the patient is clinically dead before they get involved and their job is to save multiples lives in the transplant recipients. This aspect is probably the least emotionally difficult part of the situation involving a 5 year old organ donor. The hardest is the initial treatment and the decision to withdraw life support and make her a donor.

That’s okay to talk about too.

It’s just that this case is big in the local news, and since she was so young it made me think.

I’m an environmental scientist–specifically one who works on water quality protection. A few years ago during the peak of the Deep Horizon disaster, I was at a family function and a cousin asked how I felt knowing a gazillion gallons of oil were gushing out of the ground every day. He could only imagine my outrage.

I told him I felt very pessimistic about the clean-up and recovery. Or BP ever getting its comeuppance. But no, I wasn’t “outraged.” In fact, I was actually kind of excited, thinking about all the cool research projects and policy ramifications that would come out of the disaster.

I didn’t tell my cousin that last part, but he was still pissed off at me for not being sufficiently angry.

I didn’t go into environmental scientist because of my love towards the environment. I do love it, but that’s not why I became a scientist. I would have become a tree-hugging activist if I had been driven by love. At the end of the day, it’s all about the numbers and problem-solving for me. A environmental disaster that doesn’t directly impact me or my family is just another “fun” problem for me. Not an emotional tragedy.

I imagine a medical professional who is driven by love for people more than love of medicine gets burnt-out rather quickly.

This is very true. Many medical students consider doing pediatrics because they enjoy being around the kids while they are in medical school. The old adage though is not to become a pediatrician because you love kids, but because you love pediatrics.

I’d assume they were excited to get some needed organs, plus operating on a dead person would be a lot less stressful than on a live person. At least there’s no chance you’ll mess up and kill them.

In the short term:
Mar 19, 2015 · Outside of a Southern California hospital, an ER doctor is crouched down against a concrete wall grieving the loss of his 19-year-old patient.

In the long term…there is a huge problem with depression among doctors, but it is kept hidden for fear of repercussions by employers. So, instead, cynicism (real or pretended) develops, eg the anaesthetist who was sued for making jokes about a sedated patient (he taped his colonoscopy).

My intended was a coroner. He had a difficult time after doing an autopsy on children, and would withdraw for a few days when one came through his office.

He had a therapist he spoke with; I assume it helped him process some of his sadness around the utter pointlessness of some of the deaths he saw.

My daughter is a social worker at a large clinical hospital in the pediatric unit. She has some very stressful cases, ranging from accidental drownings to criminal abuse to 1-in-a-million rare medical cases. She has a young child herself. The way she gets through it is that she’s helping families get through emotional times in their lives in spite of the ultimate outcomes. I imagine it’s similar to how morticians handle their emotions - it’s a job where the satisfaction comes from helping others.

An ex helped once with the harvest of multiple organs from a single (adult) donor. It took about as long as the procedure in the OP and in her words, it was “gross.” Her day job mainly involved patients with chronic conditions, usually terminal, and she basically said that everyone at her job enjoyed seeing the same patients from week to week but they made sure to stay emotionally detached.

Detachment is difficult to attain because medical professionals want to help people. I never could do it; empathy won out no matter what, and sometimes it was almost impossible to keep things together. That’s why I didn’t go to medical school.

I don’t know the actual statistics, but nearly all of the retired paramedics I’ve spoken with got out because of one call too many involving a child. Including my husband. It’s the one case that he, usually a storyteller, won’t share many details of with me. I just know it was a 5 year old girl, and she didn’t survive.

So sometimes the answer is: they don’t. They move to another specialty or they retire when it gets to be too much to cope with.

For what it’s worth, the actual procedures for cutting open people (both harvesting organs and live-patient surgery) are designed to minimize the trauma. For instance, most of the body will be covered with cloths, with only the part that’s being cut into exposed. That would make it easier to think of what you’re carving as “a piece of flesh” rather than “a five-year-old girl”.

A few years ago, a pediatrician in my state won “doctor of the year” from the organ procurement agency because she spoke with the parents of a young, fatally injured child and got them to donate organs. I don’t think I’d be able to do it.

In a former job, I did brain death exams on adults at least once a week. I once had to pronounce someone twice because he twitched on the table as they were about to start harvesting organs.

I never considered becoming a medical doctor because (1) the hours seemed insane and (2) I couldn’t handle the reality of the badly burned children I’d seen.

Decades latter, I learn that (1)It’s actually rather rewarding having a job where they really care about the work you are doing, and suck up to you to get you to do things, and (2) It’s very rewarding working with bad burns on small children, because they come in looking like that… and go out healed.

With the specialisation of skills in medicine, some doctors manage to avoid having much to do with patients. Particularly the surgical teams are notorious for this. The surgon and the anaesthetist have to meet the patient maybe twice, most of the surgical nurses not even that. The rest of the time it’s just a body and a task.

Then you have intensive care, where you toughen up or ship out, and the junior medical interns, who often are the doctors who have most patient contact in a hospital, who have a couple of years dealing with real life, and then get to make a decision about how much they can handle…

I witnessed a car accident where an eight-year-old girl was hit and became deeply unconscious. She stopped breathing but I managed to do first aid which got her breathing again. Her mother came on the scene and was naturally hysterical.

Unfortunately, the girl died in the hospital that evening. It was really a shock for me, and I, too wondered how medical professionals could handle it on a frequent basis.

When our first son was born and died, the staff in the children’s hospital were wonderful. I look back in awe of how they performed their jobs in both a professional and sympathetic manner.

My father was a Pediatric Anesthesiologist. I remember one Christmas day when after our breakfast he got ready and went in to work where they removed the cancer ridden leg of a doomed young Chernobyl survivor. He started out in the air force and investigated aviation accidents as part of his duties there. Unbelievably gruesome. As a General Practitioner he spent plenty of time as an emergency room physician and also as a small town doctor where he knew everybody. He gave hints over the years of various things but could not really speak of it much for professional reasons though he would briefly comment on things that disturbed him. He is a caring sensitive man and I know much of it tore him apart inside.

Like many Doctors (and police officers and emergency responders) he is an alcoholic. He is in recovery now for 6 years. He spent time down at Betty Ford in a program that was all Doctors and LEO’s.

He loved his job and it meant everything to him. I wished he could have been helped sooner.