One of my strengths in emergency medicine is my ability to have empathy without getting emotionally involved. I'm not made of stone or anything, but I have never had the breakdowns that my friends and colleagues have. I don't fault them for it... if anything, watching their totally normal reactions to horrible situations (stillborn babies, terminally ill children, victims of abuse, etc.) has made me wonder if I'm the one who is defective in some way. I've been involved in many a traumatic situation, but when the staff involved are offered the chance to debrief and get counseling I've never felt the need. My husband is a wonderful ear for my complaints and shoulder for support, and I've never needed to look further. One of my first shifts here involved a code on a perfectly healthy toddler. She died. I appreciated how tragic it was, but it didn't affect me deeper than that in spite of the fact that I was pregnant and hormonal at the time.
Then I had the Bean.
It was like flipping a switch. My ability to stay impartial and unaffected has been completely lost. Having to reduce a trampoline-induced displaced fracture on a child nearly had me in tears of sympathy my first week back at work. Hearing another person's account of a case of child abuse that had presented to emerg made me so nauseous I thought I was going to throw up in the middle of an academic session. Today, just putting a 1 year old (who looked strikingly like my own kidlet) under anesthetic for a minor surgery had me choked up-- the child's confusion and tears, his agitation when he woke up in recovery, the anguish and helplessness on his mother's face as she rocked him before giving him up to the anesthesiologist-- I just couldn't stop thinking of my own son and how hard it would be to watch him be taken away by strangers and waking up confused and in pain afterwards.