Courage & Compassion or Dead is Dead

I have often heard Medics
say things like “He was way gone, but we worked the Code for the family”, or
“It was just easier to Code him and go, plus it’s always good to practice.”
These are things I’ve said and done myself, and so I understand the logic behind
it. That does not make it right.

These are uncomfortable
situations for many Medics, particularly the less experienced. You really feel
like they called you here, so you should do something. We want to do
something, but what to do is more important. Maybe first I’ll share what
not to do and why.

Don’t work obviously dead
people, because dead is dead. Don’t give the family false hope. Don’t waste and
risk the expensive and inherently dangerous emergency trip to the hospital only
to get someone immediately pronounced on your cot. The family already knew in
their hearts what happened, they just did not know what to do about it so they
called 911. Imagine them watching you poke & pump, then following you to
the hospital. Getting their hopes up only to have them dashed again, borders on
being cruel. Plus, they get the bill for this abuse. The last thing the family
needs is a huge ambulance and emergency room bill, on top of all the other
responsibilities they will now be faced with.

The courageous and
compassionate Medic does what is hardest, they tell the truth. They explain
clearly and factually what has happened and how they reached that conclusion.
Then they do the only thing harder, they give this deceased persons loved ones
a hug. They need your compassion now more than they need your lights and
sirens. This stuff is tough, and it took years for me to learn it. Help the
grieving family, and show some humanity and caring for those left behind. They
need it badly at this time of crises, and you are the only one there to give
it. They are your “patient”, not the body on the floor. 

years back, my wife’s only child passed away. He was terminal, but I was not
there at the time so she did the only thing she could think of, she called 911.
They did what I least expected, they told the truth and gave her a long hug.
They asked if they could call someone for her, and so she had them call me. It
took me 20 minutes or more to get there, but when I arrived the Medics were
still there waiting for me. They explained they did not feel comfortable
leaving her alone with her deceased child. Those two Medics have my deepest
appreciation and respect. To the rest of you, try to match their courage and
compassion. They sure had it to give, and it was exactly what was needed most
on a Mothers worst day.

About Dan White

I'm a retired Paramedic and EMS Instructor with 35 years EMS and emergency medical product experience. I love canoes, cars and EMS. I have written a lot about EMS Technology on the Paramedic Blog, the Insights on Innovation column for, on and I can be reached directly at 573-240-0002.
This entry was posted in EMS. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Courage & Compassion or Dead is Dead

  1. Sarah says:

    I have heard a lot of things but this was not what I expected. Thank you.

  2. Unknown says:

    Words to the wise…it took me many years to understand the truth in your writing, and when I did, it made all the difference in the world to me and to our patients and their families.I will say, the system I worked in, the Ft Wayne system, ALWAYS either stayed with the family until the funeral home arrived or called for a PD officer to relieve us if we had to go back in service or leave on another call…I have always thought that was the right thing to do and it is good to pass on that wisdom.KeithMedic 80 (ret\’d)

  3. Unknown says:

    good article. it\’s hard to tell the truth, so we hide behind a bunch of IV\’s and ET tubes and pretend that what we are doing is right. what is hard for me is when other responders refuse to adhere to that same standard and will not support your decision to no code. the important thing to remember about this business is that a taxi can transport, we are send to these situations to resolve a situation, not necessarily transport or treat anybody.

  4. Robert says:

    I have been saying this same thing for years. I once had an EMS director order me to work an obviously deceased elderly woman for the sake of her equally sick and elderly sister. It was my contention then, as well as now, that most people, especially most elderly people are more comfortable with the idea of a loved one being dead then they are with the sight of a loved one enduring all that goes with a "Full Code". If there is even an iota of viability, I agree, give it your best shot, but please don\’t violate someone with rigor and lividity simply because you are afraid to tell the family they have died.*I must be getting old..I have an opinion about everything nowdays!*

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s