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The Survivor's Guilt Most Trauma Surgeons Can't Escape

We all take you, our patients and communities, home with us at night. But please also know that our lives are never the same either. Every patient encounter alters us -- sometimes subtly, and sometimes drastically. We are changed, and we never forget.
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Exhausted surgeon sitting on floor
Exhausted surgeon sitting on floor

A Surgeon's Survivor's Guilt

My heart tells me I lost them. My brain tells me I never had them to lose.

One of my mentors has said that all trauma surgeons have their own personal graveyard, filled with patients we couldn't save, and families' hearts left broken. A truer statement has never been said, and this weekend, this trauma surgeon's graveyard has increased yet again.

The feelings that accompany this increase are always varying and deep.

There is anger. True wrath. When the hell are we going to figure this out? When are we going to stop shooting one another?! When are we going to learn that drinking and driving can be deadly?! When are we going to start respecting ourselves, our bodies, and one another?! When are people going to stop paving a path of destruction for themselves and others that is wide and immeasurable?!

There is sadness. Sadness over the pain and the fear that my patients surely felt. Sadness over the waste of life that we witness. adness for the families left behind, in a new world they never anticipated.

And yes, guilt. Guilt over being able to go home, when our patient couldn't. Guilt for leaving the hospital to enjoy my family knowing another family has just been destroyed.

This weekend was a particularly rough one for myself, and the hospital at which I work. Although to most people around the country, it was just another act of violence, to myself and our community, it was felt deeply. Every person in our hospital was stung, upset and shocked. Everyone knew what happened -- I received touches on the arm, knowing hugs, and reassuring smiles. They knew I did everything humanly possible even when the inhuman was needed, but that knowledge is a poor salve against this type of wound.

So please, if you know someone who works in health care -- give them a hug, a high five, or even a thank you. I have said before how we all take you, our patients and communities, home with us at night, but please also know that our lives are never the same either. Every patient encounter alters us -- sometimes subtly, and sometimes drastically. We are changed, and we never forget.

Stay safe.

This post originally appeared on Hot Heels, Cool Kicks, & a Scalpel.