I had another tough conversation with a patient’s family members a few days ago. I’ve learned over the past eight years that each interaction is different, but no less important. It’s hard sometimes knowing the words you say will stay with this family and change their lives forever.
As Emergency Physicians, we get surprisingly little training on how to break bad news to families and loved ones. How do you tell someone that their world is fundamentally changed? So I’ve made a conscious effort to figure out how to do this the best I can. There is no right way and while I feel the tremendous responsibility that comes with it, I know the families that receive the news bear a heavier burden. It feels cliché to say it is the hardest part of the job, but it’s also where my team shines best.
The key things for me have always been to be as open and honest as possible, not use medical jargon, and most importantly, to take the time with the family to let it sink in. You need to let them ask questions and let them go through all the emotions they’ll experience—anger, sadness, disbelief—each person handles it differently. I rely heavily on our incredible social workers and nurses in the department to help me walk the family through the process. As always, it is a team effort that makes the difference.
Days where I have to communicate to a wife and their kids that dad might not make it through the night definitely weigh on you personally, but somebody has to bear that responsibility and I’m ok with being one of those people. I hope I do it in a compassionate way that communicates to the family how important their loved one’s care is to us. The man who was in critical condition a few days ago is stabilized now and recovering from his trauma.
Thanks for reading my blog today. This month, Grosvenor Americas is matching your donations to the Emergency Department at VGH, up to $30,000! If you can, please donate generously. You gift will help us continue to provide compassionate care when it is needed most. Make a donation and double your impact today. Thank you.
Dr. Andrew Campbell
Vancouver General Hospital