Medical residents – the young MDs in the years-long, boots-on-the-ground phase of their medical training – do amazing things in academic medical centers like University of Colorado Hospital. Under the supervision of faculty attending physicians, they patch up the injured and help get them back on their feet. They help nurture the sick back to health. They bring babies into the world.
Hospitals like UCH abound with stories of birth, rebirth and rejuvenation. But there’s another reality to hospitals, one that get less attention. Some of the sick and injured – including the babies – don’t make it. Or despite the best efforts of providers and first-class medical care, their wounds, illnesses and disorders render them shadows of their former selves.
Their stories can be heartbreaking. Families of patients can lack coping skills, leading to despondence, even aggression. Medical residents working 80-hour weeks quite commonly find themselves thrust directly into scenes of life-threatening emergency, extreme emotion, and profound sadness. They then exit the room and, for reasons ranging from medical-business mores to the practical realities of busy units, walk into that of another patient, maintaining the physician’s stoic façade, making every attempt to put the unforgettable out of their minds.