It's like standing on a deserted platform

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 09 December 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1459
  1. Finley Armanious, Vernon
  1. British Columbia

    I sit in our living room and look out of the window across the lake to the distant mountain silhouetted against a hazy blue horizon. People tell me it is a beautiful view. I used to think so, too. But now all that I see is the road on the other side of the lake where our son died in a car accident, and all I can think of is the moment before his death, when he must have known that he would never see his wife or children again. He was on his way home from a medical meeting to be present at his daughter's 5th birthday party.

    As a houseman in a hospital in Wales, I once had to tell a wife, in her early 30s, that her husband had just died. To this day, I can still remember the look on her face as I gave her the sad news, I could sense her desperate struggle to keep herself under control. She looked at me without seeing me; her lip trembled and her eyes moistened. She sat in silence.

    What I did not know then was that in a moment her world had changed for ever. Now I know. It is like suddenly finding yourself standing on an empty platform in a deserted city after the train and all the people have left.

    During my career I often had to tell relatives that their loved one had passed away. You try on such occasions to be gentle and sympathetic, and often apologetic. But then you leave to return to your duties. I have never later thought about those relatives, nor wondered how they had coped, nor how such an event affected their lives.

    We are trained to think rationally and use scientific method in our reasoning. I know that physically the world around me and the people I know and work with have not changed. Yet, since the death of our son, I feel different, and in a way, I feel embarrassed about that imagined change. Is it because I try to carry on with my work as before, and all the time the image of that accident is in my head? Is it because I want to be alone? Or is it simply depression, a diagnosis I am reluctant to accept? I do not know, but I do know that from now on I will never be able to tell someone that his or her loved one has died without seeing that lone figure standing on that deserted platform.


    • We welcome articles of up to 600 words on topics such as A memorable patient, A paper that changed my practice, My most unfortunate mistake, or any other piece conveying instruction, pathos, or humour. If possible the article should be supplied on a disk. Permission is needed from the patient or a relative if an identifiable patient is referred to. We also welcome contributions for “Endpieces,” consisting of quotations of up to 80 words (but most are considerably shorter) from any source, ancient or modern, which have appealed to the reader.

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