Medical staff find comfort in honoring lives

Those in the medical field who care for gravely ill or injured patients must come to terms with the possibility of witnessing death. Doctors and nurses working in emergency departments and intensive care units, for example, try every conceivable treatment to keep their patient alive, but when if the moment of death comes, the frustration and sadness is palpable.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported the story of Jonathan Bartels, a nurse working in emergency care at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charottesville, Virginia. Bartels and his colleagues had been working for hours in an attempt to save a patient and resuscitation failed. Preventing staff from leaving the room, a nearby chaplain insisted on praying over the deceased patient.

Bartels said he felt that was the right thing to do, no matter the religion or lack of it in the people in the room.  Following that experience, he adopted the practice whenever a patient died, asking staff for a short period of silence to remember and acknowledge the patient.
The ceremony caught on throughout the hospital with other departments doing the same thing to honor the life that had ended.

The act of giving a moment of silence to honor the deceased has now been given a name: “The Pause.” Learning about this practice is now part of the curriculum at the University of Virginia School of Nursing and is spreading across the United States. An emergency medical technician said that taking the time to remember the patient as a member of a family brought a human aspect to the end of a person’s life by remembering their attachment to their family members and their position in the family.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) mentions a study entitled “‘This is just too awful; I just can’t believe I experienced that…’: medical students’ reactions to their ‘most memorable’ patient death” in which researchers interviewed 65 third-year medical students regarding their emotional reaction to patient deaths. Of the group, 57 percent rated patient death as highly emotional and impactful, 63 percent said there was no discussion by colleagues in the aftermath of a patient’s death.

Participating in “The Pause” brings comfort to medical staff and respects and honors the life of a patient. A person does not need to belong to a specific religion in order to take part in a spiritual moment. For emergency medical staff, taking part in “The Pause” contributes to good mental by creating a safe space to process emotion.

Good mental health is essential for a full and meaningful life. If you would like further information on mental health or where to find help, please call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline.