Article: What its like to deliver bad news for a living

Some moments live with you forever.

An article I recently read states that, based on research, people who have to deliver bad news for a living suffer the the pain of the grim news just as much as the people receiving it.

That would be difficult to understand, if your job involves catching butterflies, or flipping burgers

But let me tell you something, they’re right.

Being an ER doctor, we break bad news regularly (more regularly than not in some specific hospitals in Kuwait, but thats a different story), and you’d think after 10 or 20 times it gets a little bit easier.

It doesnt.

The article stated the following effects on people who delivered bad news for a living:

Their symptoms included ulcers, headaches, heart problems, increased blood pressure, disturbed sleep, social isolation and emotional exhaustion—a classic measure of burnout. Notably, many of those ill effects lingered, even three years after they’d delivered layoff notices.

I remember clearly this one patient who came to the ER.  Young fella, flew off his motorcycle after colliding with a car.

Came to the resuscitation room, we worked our socks off that night, I remember it as clear as if it was yesterday.  We worked our bloody socks off trying to resuscitate this young guy, but he had too many internal injuries and he passed away despite everything we did for him.

I remember removing all the lines we had put into him, no one wants to see their relative dead, let alone seeing 100 different tubes running through their body.

Making a horrific situation less horrific, in a sense I guess.

But the time came to break the news to the family, who were waiting outside.  Only I couldnt leave the resus room, because the friends who brought him in the first place werent willing to leave, despite them knowing all along what had ultimately happened.

They told me his eldest brother was on his way, and he was the father figure in the house, and informed me to break the news to him first.

So I waited..

Until I saw this massive man, like a super hero from a Marvel movie, as big as the door frame, as wide as a cupboard at home.

The guy was big.

One word, and he kicked out all of his brothers friends.  He cleared the resuscitation room, with one word.


Is all he said.  He had an aura about him that dominated the room.

So I approached him and the following conversation ensued:

Me: “يالغالي انت اخو محمد؟”

Him: “شفيه حمود؟”

Me: “يالغالي انت اخوه؟”

Him: “اي انا اخوه، شفيه؟”

I explained in no uncertain terms that everything possible was done to save his brother, but ultimately he succumbed to his injuries.

Him: “لا انت غلطان اهو نايم بس

محمد قوم”

Me: “يالغالي…”

Him: “محمد قوم.” Tapping on his brothers body.

Him: “محمد”

Him: “حمودي..” His voice cracking at this point


“When you hear a mother howl—it’s a primal scream that you’ll never hear in the movies, you’ll never hear it anywhere else, except from a mother who lost her child,” he reflected. “Nothing can prepare you for that.”


To see this big hulk of a man, literally break in front of my own eyes, calling his baby brother to wake up from what he deemed was “sleep” was the most shattering thing id seen.

I have two brothers of my own, and watching that scene unfold in front of me, especially from a man so calm and collected as he was, attempting to forcibly wake his brother up from a slumber we all knew he was not waking up from, and then finally … breaking.

I lost my composure at this point.  I broke as well.

What I had witnessed shook my very soul, and I had to leave the resuscitation room.  No one wants to see a doctor, let alone a grown man, cry.

Breaking bad news on a daily basis takes its toll on us.

But even the darkest cloud has a silver lining.

As doctors, we deal with death on a daily basis, we fall victim to referring to patients as “bed number 3 needs to be cleared surgically as soon as possible” or referring to them by their disease.

“The guy with the liver issue”

And after a while we see patients as numbers, bed numbers to be specific.  Capacity, full, empty and so on.

Its moments like that, that bring us back to reality.

Our earth shattering reality check.

Tragic days tend to make us or break us as people.  I look back at experiences such as that, and even though no medical mistakes were made with that young man, the look on his brothers face acts as a constant reminder of what we are fighting for everyday.

Saving peoples lives.

Live your life well boys and girls, and remember to take care of yourselves for others peoples sake if not yours.

Have a great weekend.

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One Comment

  1. Dalal June 6, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

    Heart breaking …I actually cried reading this! So proud of you

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