Everything will be alright.
It’s one of those phrases people say in times of difficulty. They might touch your hand as they say it to help you believe them. It’s a phrase I’ve heard coming out of my own mouth from time to time. Sometimes to a friend. Sometimes to a stranger. But it’s a phrase that isn’t always applicable.
I recently lost a patient. He was young. Too young. He had a ruptured aortic aneurysm. His son saw it happen. His dad called for help before he slumped to the floor. They rushed him to the hospital, where I met him and his mother at the bedside of my patient. They were all praying together. A prayer I was familiar with.
The nurses and doctors were frantically getting IVs started, ordering blood, calling the surgeon. Everyone did everything they could. And there I was. Just standing there. Nothing for me to do. And I looked across the bed at the patient’s family. I wanted to tell them that everything will be alright. But I couldn’t. Because I knew it was a lie. There were no words I could say in that moment.
Later that day the patient died. And I couldn’t help but get angry. He was too young to die. He had no warning. He had a family. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t alright.
These situations are the worst in medicine. I can kind of justify things in my mind if a little old lady dies at the ripe old age or 95. She was old and old people die. I can kind of justify it when the drug addict overdoses and then drives his car into a tree. He brought this on himself. He did something that caused his death.
But when a young patient drops dead out of nowhere, having done nothing wrong – it just doesn’t sit well with me. And that patient’s death didn’t sit well with me.
Neither did the death of a young mother of three who dropped dead of a brain bleed a few days before. As we told her husband that she was brain-dead, I wanted to say that everything will be alright. But it wouldn’t. It wasn’t fair. And there were no words that I could say that would make it okay.
Because sometimes there are no words.