Matthew K. Tobin, MD, PhD, a first-year neurosurgery resident in IU School of Medicine Department of Neurological Surgery, was on call at IU Health Methodist when a victim of a serious motor vehicle accident arrived at the Level 1 Trauma Center. After quickly evaluating the patient, Tobin knew the injuries were “non-survivable.” Now he had to relay the horrible news to the mother that her 20-something-year-old son would not live. “What language do I use?” he thought.
Tobin (@mattktob) later tweeted about the experience, which was seen by a Medpage Today producer who asked if he’d be willing to share more of the story. Tobin’s experience that night in the emergency room is now one of three stories from healthcare workers who appear on the latest Anamnesis podcast “Taboo: Medicine’s Dark Underside.” Tobi's story makes up Chapter 2, “You’re Never Prepared for the Screams.”
“The part that is never easy about the process, though, is having to figure out how we tell the family members, in this case a mom, a dad and siblings, that their child and sibling will not survive their injuries,” he reveals on the podcast.
“Nothing can prepare you for the screams, the banging on the wall, and the feeling of being so utterly lost that these family members often just sit there staring off into space, frozen in time.”
“For neurosurgery patients, especially, I try to use language that portrays the severity of the patient's injuries without imparting any kind of finality to them, for example, using words like "catastrophic" or "non-survivable injury" instead of words like “dead” or "death," Tobin’s podcast continues. “This way, the family members still have the opportunity to see and experience their loved ones while they're still alive.”
Tobin says recording the podcast was a great experience and looks forward to it creating more conversation about doctors’ experiences with the patients who do not survive.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Communications Specialist, Neurosciences
Glenda joined the Department of Neurological Surgery in 2015 as a Medical Editor. A journalism graduate of Howard University, Glenda has an extensive background in delivering health and science information to the patient and clinician audiences. Contact ...