The Inevitable Loss of a Patient

death Jan 07, 2024
The Inevitable Loss of a Patient

We're honored to share the powerful words of Dr. Leonor Corsino, a member of our Grieve Leave community.

In her contributed blog post titled, “The Inevitable Loss of A Patient,” Dr. Corsino discusses the struggle of expressing grief in the healthcare community. She tackles medical professionals’ tough task of balancing personal emotions with professional responsibilities, shedding light on the behind-the-scenes emotional toll many carry when losing a patient they've known for years.

Life as a healthcare provider can be challenging. We will all, at some point, experience loss and grief. It is inevitable. Moving on and finding ways to grieve allow us to be human. From
personal experience, I can attest that even when you experience a tremendous amount of loss,
you can find ways to move on and live life with purpose. However, recently, I found myself
experiencing loss in a whole new way. I can’t explain it, but it has opened my eyes to a new
perspective on grief. It is not that I have not experienced it before; it is just that this time, it felt
different, and I am more aware of the hidden cost of not talking about it.

Perhaps as you read this, you will be surprised that despite being a physician for over 25 years,
it was not until recently, after losing some of my long and beloved patients, that I experienced a
sadness I am not able to describe. I have lost many patients in the past, but like many
physicians, I was trained to move on and keep working.

As an adult endocrinologist caring for patients with chronic illnesses, I have built long and
lasting relationships with my patients. Some become more like family and friends; I have been
their healthcare provider for over a decade. I get to know them well, and they know a lot about
me as I treat them as friends and family.

My patients have been with me through a lot, not only in their personal lives, but some have
been with me during my own losses. Some know me well and know when I am ok and when I
am not. These are the relationships I cherish the most. These relationships are built on
enduring trust and support that you hold close to your heart because you realize it is what
brought you to healthcare in the first place. Nevertheless, losing some long-term patients is
inevitable as I get old and my patients also get old.

As I sat at my clinic desk and opened the electronic medical record, I noticed the recent
notification of one of my patients’ deaths. I opened the notification and noticed it was for some
of my longest and dearest friends. Patients are friends I have known for years, whom I saw not
long ago, and whom I care for and love so much. Patients are friends I hold close to my heart
and appreciate so much. As I learned about their death, I sat there, not knowing what to do. I
wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. The clinic was full, I was running behind, and my next patient was
waiting. I also had a learner with me. I thought I could not cry in front of them. I was sad… I
wanted to run. Instead, I had to pretend all was ok, and I had to move on. I was not OK. I
couldn’t help but think about why it is so hard to share with others in healthcare the pain caused
by losing a patient you have known for such a long time.

As I left the clinic that day, one of the nurses noticed that I was not as cheerful as usual. She
asked if I was okay. I answered, I just lost one of my patients. She looked at me, slightly
surprised; perhaps she had not expected my answer. Perhaps she did not expect to hear it from
providers or from those in our field. She extended her condolences by saying she was so sorry.
Nobody else noticed I was not my usual self. I moved on to my next meeting and task but was
not okay. I kept pondering why it was so much harder this time to learn about the death of my
patient. It was not as if I had never experienced this. I have lost many patients as a healthcare
provider, but this time felt different. It was different because I had known this patient for years; I
knew them well, and we were more than just patient and provide; we were friends. It was also a
reminder of so many others I lost in the past but did not get the time to grieve their losses.

I can’t explain it. Perhaps the abrupt, impersonal, matter-of-fact notification via the electronic
medical record sparked this great sadness. It is disconcerting to realize this will continue to be
part of my experience moving forward. That realization and its inevitability came with more
sadness. How can healthcare providers make the loss of long-term patients, or any patient, a
part of our conversations? Why can we not allow ourselves to cry in front of each other? Can we
make these losses an acceptable grief that we all embrace? Grieving is personal; we all
experience it in different ways, but I cannot help but think that we need to continue this
conversation as the loss of patients is inevitable in this profession. We need to talk about it,
continue to support each other, and take time to grieve for our own health and that of those we
continue to care for.

Today, I continue to grieve the recent loss of my beloved patient. I still struggle with the sadness
and loneliness I felt that day in the clinic when I learned about their deaths. I encourage us to
embrace each other as we experience the inevitable as healthcare providers – the loss of our

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