Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sensitivity Training


Over the years, I've taken care of my share of attempted suicide patients.  Some of them more than once.  Many times I've heard conversations about those patients which generally includes tips about how to do the job right.  In truth, here and there, I've been guilty of conversing in such  a manner myself.  It goes something like this:  "well, if he really meant to kill himself, he should have done it in a place where he wouldn't have been found."  And this, "she just wants attention."  Or worse, "maybe next time, he'll do the job right."  Some do get it right after multiple trials and errors.   I don't speculate like this anymore and have learned that it's incredibly insensitive to minimize a person's suffering in respect to suicide.  It is what it is: an expression of illness.  

A short time after my friend lost a child in this manner, a group of doctors were sitting at the desk discussing the unsuccessful suicide attempt of a patient in our ICU.  My friend overheard this conversation which was like a slap in the face.  You see, she never had the opportunity to intervene and stop a senseless death, and having to hear others make light of such a thing was devastating.  Can you imagine doing CPR on your dying child?  My friend did.  The lesson here is that you NEVER know who is listening or how they'll be affected by what they hear you say.  The other lesson to be learned is that just because the afflicted doesn't have a lesion or illness you can quantify, scan, xray or diagnose, doesn't mean they aren't hurting.  The brain, for all of our advances in medicine, still remains a mystery-especially when it comes to mental illness and depression.  Best to keep one's uniformed opinions on how to get the job done to one's self.

I bring this up today because a man who had lost his job and is depressed, tied up an interstate for 9 hours today.  He was threatening to jump from an overpass.  I heard plenty of insensitive remarks because of the way he inconvenienced motorists who were trying to get somewhere.  Maybe their jobs.  It took the police all day to talk him down, but thankfully, they did, and now, maybe this man will finally get the help he needs.  I'll tell you one more thing, too.  If anyone thinks they'd like to be front and center when a man jumps in such a manner, I think you may want to reconsider.  This would be a terrible scene to witness-more so if you willed it to happen in order for you to get somewhere.



16 comments:

WT said...

Coincidentally, I was once trapped in a similar (though much smaller) traffic jam, and for the same reason. I was only about 5 or 6 cars back and some of the police controlling the situation were going along the lines of cars calming people down and telling them what was happening. One of them came to my window and said "sorry about the delay" all I could think to answer was "don't worry about it, he's having a much worse day than I am."

There was a genuine look of appreciation on the cop's face.

Joanna said...

Thank you for that post Rudee. I especially appreciate the point about the invisibility of mental illness. Sometimes we can be insensitive just through lack of attention.

Miss 376 said...

I remember being there when some were making a joke of suicide, it's certainly no joke when a family member has committed suicide. it has repercussions for everyone

debra said...

When I was 18, a friend drank drain cleaner to commit suicide. She was badly burned, both internally and externally, and died shortly thereafter. One never knows the pain someone is in. Compassion is a gift we can all share.

distracted by shiny objects said...

Agree with you completely, 100%. In fact, I think what you CAN count on is that someone who would be terribly distressed by the comments will overhear you.
For the record, I will say that I think some of that humor is ignorance, some is simply the "gallows humor" found in hospitals. It's all so incredibly sad at times.
We had a young man once, being discharged to home from the ICU after a suicidal gesture--Psych wouldn't take him. Said he was only suicidal when he drank and he wasn't a danger to himself right now. Say what??? Anyway, the guy wanted to get home, wanted to get to an AA meeting, we pushed and shoved the slow-grinding wheels of Large Teaching Hospital to get his discharge meds and a ride and get him home. He was re-admitted BEFORE OUR SHIFT WAS OVER for an overdose of anti-freeze and his discharge meds.
With a mental health system like this in place you gotta laugh or you'd go crazy, and ain't nobody going to admit your crazy tush for treatment.

Rudee said...

WT- I'm sure plenty of people would give the cop a hard time-as though the situation is one of his making.

Joanna-just because we can't see mental illness, doesn't make it less real. I think because it is often hard to measure and understand, as humans, we're frightened by it. If depression were a huge cauliflower -like growth that was visible on someone's head, there would be great sensitivity toward those who had this.

Miss- you are right, and the resulting issues never go away. I think closure with a death like this is difficult, if not impossible.

Debra- that's such a sad story-and one that serves to demonstrate that it can still trouble a person so many years later.

the rotten correspondent said...

Dealing with suicidal patients is nothing like I thought it would be. There are no easy answers, no real help with "the system" in a lot of cases.

Sometimes I think the gallows humor comes out of the sheer frustration with the situation. We're fixers, and some fixes are harder than others.

But I've learned the hard way that this is absolutely no time for humor - I've seen it blow up in too many people's faces.

Rudee said...

You're right RC-it is a time to show compassion toward the patient and toward friends and family, it's not a time to demonstrate humor.

Brenda said...

I watched the news clip and the first thing I heard was that they usually don't do news stories about suicide attempts. SO I am guessing it was because of the traffic it caused. I was happy to see the prayer chain and the lady who was walking her child and came back hoping and praying the man was okay. I like it when the news shows stories of people having compassion for others, in this way. I am afraid to see the statistics for suicide this year. Already since January, just in my little world, there have been 2 deaths from suicide. I agree with you, that depression and other mental illnesses are very hard to diagnose and treat.

Delphine said...

I cannot even begin to imagine the agony of mind before a suicide attempt, successful or otherwise. Self-hate for whatever reason , or total despair is unimaginable. I wonder how many of the 'saved ' resume a normal life? Are they thankful? Or just forced to live in a hell on earth?

Poetikat said...

Unbelievable that people can put the "rat race" ahead of such a tragedy. I think it's that attitude that probably put the guy in that position in the first place.

Kat

Lisa L said...

Depression. When you're in that deep, dark hole, you cannot see the forest for the trees. Its impossible to get out of the muck of sadness without professional/medication help. We had a situation not to long ago in Honolulu where a person did jump on to a freeway...on to someone's car. Can you imagine the horror?...not only of the person who killed himself, but of the person driving the car? I often wonder how the driver is managing...

Betty Flocken said...

That's very true Rudee. Years ago, while my father in law was dying of Me...(The lung disease caused by Asbestos) I doctor walked through the ER looked at his x-ray and laughing asked another doctor if the patient was still "with us".. I spoke up and said YES, his wife is sitting right over there!
Suicide is such an awful waste and the pain that leads to it is awful and dark. I've suffered from that depression and watched my son suffer while people asked HOW he could possibly be depressed.. It's an awful illness that doesn't show. Thanks for your post

Cheryl said...

Rudee,
This post went right to my heart. I hope you know how much it means to me. Thank you for posting this, as I have witnessed first hand the insensitivity of so many people, especially professionals.

Depression/suicide attempts are all part of a serious medical problem. Yet, so many people don't see it as a real medical issue. It breaks my heart.

I'm so glad you do what you do. You were born to be a nurse and thank God your in this profession. Your sensitivity is wonderful.

XXXXXX

Rositta said...

There are at least a couple of suicide attempts every week within our subway system. It's never in the news as such just called a "delay" but everyone knows what that means. There was also one bridge here in T-dot that was know as a jumpers bridge. They put a "veil" which cost millions, looks ugly but has prevented suicides. Problem is T-dot has many such bridges and the ones who really want to do it will find a way. I too have been stuck in traffic over said bridge but I've never gotten upset over it. That's just the way life is in the big city...ciao

Sandy said...

I've had much first and experience with suicide, two brothers, a friend's son and my sis' nephew....four guys within about a year and a half of each other.

It's ugly what it does to the family....very hard...

all ages 25 to 39....