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Nurse’s professional detachment doesn’t mean she doesn’t grieve when her patient’s die.

Updated: January 20, 2013 7:03PM



Dear Abby: I would like to respond to “Still Grieving in Arkansas,” who was upset that he didn’t get a response to a note he sent to his wife’s treating physician after her death.

As an RN, my mom had a tendency to become very close to patients who required long-term care in the hospital. It seemed that she never had any “emotional detachment” from her patients, but instead formed an “emotional attachment.”

I recall many times during the convalescence or death of these patients, when Mom would come home from work and go to bed and cry from her own bereavement. I grieved, too, because it hurt me to see Mom hurting. As a young child, my father, siblings and I could have done without these periods of unnecessary emotional pain.

Therefore, Dear Abby, I think you were right to say, “Please forgive them” when doctors and nurses don’t exhibit public remorse during times of grief.

RN’s Son in Georgia

Dear RN’s Son: Thank you for describing your mother’s response to a patient’s passing and how it affected the family. However, I also heard from many health care providers who said that it is their duty to acknowledge the passing of one of their patients, and it should be considered part of the healing process for both the patient’s family and the health care provider. Read on:

Dear Abby: I am a hematologist-oncologist. I try to send a sympathy card to each family after the death of their relative. If I receive a note or a copy of an obituary, I try to call the person to thank them for taking the time to contact me.

After seeing “Grieving’s” letter, I took an informal poll of my colleagues and was gratified that many do send notes. I was surprised that some do not extend sympathies. After hearing it, I encouraged them all to do so. It’s the least we can do to promote healing among the survivors.

Ohio Oncologist

Dear Abby: I am a retired medical oncologist. Early in my career, a grieving patient’s husband berated me for not contacting the family after his wife died. It was then that I realized that despite my excellent care, the family needed something more — closure. For 30 years, until I retired, I sent a personal sympathy card and message to each family concerning their loss. Sharing these thoughts also gave me closure.

Doctor Jack in Arizona

Dear Abby: Please let “Grieving” know that one reason the health care professionals did not acknowledge his wife’s death may have been they were instructed by the hospital/treatment center not to. In this day and age, when doctors are sued for malpractice, these types of sympathy notes can be used in court.

Yvonne in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Dear Abby: I am at an age when I have lost many family members. Not once has the doctor sent a condolence card or letter to any family member. On the other hand, I have also lost many pets. Each time, the veterinarian sent a card or note, personally signed and often with the signatures of the entire office staff. I do not believe medical doctors care less for their patients than veterinary doctors care for family pets, but that vets have made sending condolences part of their office protocol. Medical doctors might well consider adding that protocol to their practices.

Mary in Virginia

Write to Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com



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