Archive for February, 2009

Medical Students Aren’t Supposed to Die

February 15, 2009

Well, it’s about 8pm on Valentine’s Day, and I find myself at home with just me and my thoughts.  All melodrama aside, they’re not particularly happy thoughts.  Recently one of the medical students in the class below me killed himself, and it’s triggered a veritable avalanche of thoughts and emotions ricocheting around in my head.  There are so many layers to how I’m feeling;  I’m extraordinarily sad that this man I knew and respected killed himself.  I am confused about my own reaction to it, and how I should be reacting to those with a more violently distraught response.  I wonder why I’m not reacting the same way, and what that says about me and my ability to feel.  Sometimes the thought intrudes that I am a medical student, and should find some lesson in this to take with me in my career.  But mostly it’s all just this raw void, making it hard to concentrate as memories of him bubble up un-bidden.

We were drinking together a few days before he died, and he had all these plans for our clinic, projects to get started.  He came to our first ultimate frisbee game before school had even begun for his class.  He was at our clinic barbecue, and he drank beer and laughed and he had a girlfriend.  These memories all come back, and no lie guys, it’s really tough.

I want to tell myself that this will pass, but I don’t want it to.  To let this sort of thing pass by would be to forget him.  And I don’t want to do that.  Ofcourse everyone says, and I know that they are right, that there is nothing that could have been done.  When someone really wants to go do such a thing, there is no way to stop them.  But I was speaking to him days before, drinking beer with him and we were smiling.  Part of me feels selfish that I can muck around here in my own self pity while someone I knew felt so awful that the only release they had was to kill themselves.  I dunno.

The day we heard, a bunch of medical students got together at someone’s house, and we sat around, drank beer and talked about stuff in general.  Sometimes he would come up, but the conversation would drift on.  More and more people showed up, and it was nice to see everyone sitting and talking, but I didn’t feel that I had really gotten it all off my chest.

I spoke to my father on the phone yesterday, and I told him about all this and how I was feeling.  He told me once how when I was a little kid, I left my bike outside, and when my parents wanted to bring it in because someone might steal it, I suggested that we should just leave a note on it, saying “please don’t steal my bike” and it would be safe.  I dunno.  I’ve obviously been in the world a few years since then, but can you fault me for thinking that maybe the world can be a warm fuzzy teddy bear place where people want to do the right thing and the only reason bad things happen is because there was a misunderstanding somewhere down the line?

Medical students are not supposed to die.  People’s mothers are not supposed to get sick with the diseases we learn about in school.  And my colleague is not supposed to weather her own medical problems and a bad breakup only to be bludgeoned with the suicide of her boyfriend..  It makes me so terribly sad that life can be so brutal.  These people have done nothing to deserve these things.

It makes me want to stand up in some high place and yell at the top of my lungs, at the injustice of all of this.  Medical students are not supposed to die.  They are not supposed to be hurting so badly that they feel that they cannot continue to live.  What sort of world is it that can make someone feel that way?  That can give someone’s mother a disease she just studied.  I don’t know.  Doctors are supposed to see a lot of tragedy and unhappiness, but at least when it’s in your patients you can contain it, find some way to put up some sort of barrier between their pain and your soul.  But this sort of thing comes in behind those barriers, and lays waste to that which you thought you could keep separate.

Bad stuff does happen here.  It can happen anywhere, to anyone, and there doesn’t need to be any sense or rhyme or reason.  It just happens, and for some reason that just hurts.  Medical students are supposed to be learning to be healers.  They’re supposed to be young and bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to save the world if not with their skills then at least with their empathy.  They’re supposed to be the next generation, carrying on this tradition of healing people’s hurts and tending to the health of families.  They’re supposed to look out for each other.  Medical students aren’t supposed to die.