Posted by: Kate | February 27, 2007

Well That Bites.

In good news, I woke up without a headache this morning.

That cheer and happiness lasted right up until I crossed the threshold into work, when Irritating C, the busybody to end all busybodies, greeted me at the door with, “That client you saw last month? She died this weekend.” Great, thanks, how about I take off my coat and sit down first?

So, she’s my first. The first client I’ve seen that has died “suddenly at home.” I don’t actually think it was suicide; we won’t get the medical examiner’s report for another few weeks, but it sounds like an accidental overdose. She never threatened suicide to me, she was instead very focused on getting benzodiazepines – Klonopin, Ativan, Xanax, whatever. The ones that you hear them talk about on medical shows when someone has a seizure or flips out and needs to be chemically encouraged to sit down and be still. In lower doses, they’re good for anxiety, whether it’s an ongoing nightly thing or a semiannual dental phobia. In much higher doses, like everything else, they’ll kill you. I believe this woman had an addiction, and I think that addiction killed her.

The horriblest part of it all, even worse than the fact that she was less than a year older than me and in good health and should have had her whole life in front of her, is that she had three kids. Her oldest is similar in age to Emily, there is a 4ish-year-old, and the baby is about 8 months old. How often do you suppose the word “poor” is going to be applied to those kids just this week, alone? And now they’re left with a family that is chaotic – stealing each other’s drugs and threatening each other on the weekends, to start – and a mother who was never really there for them before and now can’t fix that.

Just horrible. Overwhelmingly horrible.

And yet not. I’m here at work, no tears, no new headache, no guilt. I don’t feel any personal responsibility, because I did my very best to reach that woman and she would not be reached. I’ll go home at lunchtime and chat with my husband, and I’ll play with my kids tonight, and my life will go on. If I let this actually be as horrible as parts of my brain want it to be, I’d be on a steep slope toward a place I don’t want to go. Sometimes part of being human is not being human all the time.



  1. You probably wouldn’t be able to do your job if you couldn’t keep some distance from the people you work with. Irritating C probably would’ve preferred to see you have a breakdown…

  2. “Sometimes part of being human is not being human all the time.”

    I think that it is very human to be able to partition your feelings and control your reactions to things you can’t change.
    Think about this: if a medical emergency happened at your home, you would probably shut down all emotional response and do what needed to be done in order to get your loved one to the hospital, because hysteria or melodrama wouldn’t help.
    That same group of reactions would also hold true in this case. It’s a terrible tragedy, no doubt about it, but what good would beating yourself up do? None at all. Who would that help? Nobody.
    I think you are having a very normal and very human reaction to what was, after all, out of your hands.
    I am sure you did the very best job with this woman that you possibly could do, and after that, like I said, it was out of your hands.

  3. I don’t really have much to add, I think the first two commenters were great. Just wanted to let you know I had dropped by and am thinking of you and your family.

  4. It puts your own life in perspective – that it is great to be alive and be able to love and play with your kids.

    You tried your best to help her. It’s too bad she saw couldn’t see how great her life really was.

    I went to the ER this weekend (due to severe hives) and while I was there – the ambulance brought in a Code. The person died (I think he was dead when they brought him in). Although I felt like crap and was itching all over – it really put it all into perspective for me. I was able to go home and see my family (itching or not)

  5. My brain is fried tonight, so the words aren’t coming easily to me. What I want to say is that you have to be able to distance yourself. There’s no way you could survive your job if you don’t. That makes you very human indeed.

  6. Being able to be compassionate while maintaining your own sense of self is sometimes a tight rope to walk. I used to work with children in a center for battered women. I brought home too much sadness and burnt myself out.

    Whenever you you write about your job, I always think to myself, that’s how I wish I had handled things. You are a good advocate for your clients and for yourself.

  7. What a shame. I think it would be hard to work in the medical profession. You try to help people, but you’re surrounded by pain and suffering. What a strange paradox.

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