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Another Fallen Comrade

Physician Suicide – Another fallen comrade

I texted my friend last week to see how he was. No reply. His colleague in San Diego texted me saying that he was looking a bit stressed out. Later that week he walked off his job and on Friday I got word from the chief that he committed suicide.

Dr. S was a really delightful dude. He was around my age, early 40’s with 2 kids. Both were soccer players. His girl was his secret favorite and his office was always plastered with pics of his family.

I started at that place, in San Diego, in 2009 and he was one of the first docs I met. Super sweet, very patient and his patients absolutely loved this man.

I was the guy who’d be in an out of a room in less than 5 minutes but he would spend forever, always taking his time and going above and beyond.

Don’t get me wrong, he’d tell me about how tough it was to put in that kind of effort, yet he felt that he owed that to his patients.

 

He was my doctors

The PCP on my record was a ladder climber – kissing corporate ass to get more and more admin time. That was the nature of primary care in SoCal, toxic. My PCP wasn’t a bad doctor – just a bit slimy and in it to win it.

Dr. S was who I went to when I needed a doc.

I can only recall 5 times in my life when I truly felt medically helpless. One of my worst episodes was when I got this insane fucking headache at work.

I walked over to S’s office and started writhing around on his chair until he came out of a patient room. Anyway, he took good fucking care of me and that nightmare of a headache went away.

 

He was my friend

We worked together from 2009 until 2014. He knew me then as a flashy doctor, driving a Hummer, talking about who was dating, the places I was traveling to, the money I was spending.

This dude was a great fucking dancer, homeboy had some moves. At the work socials, him and his wife always broke it down something wicked.

Between shifts, we’d get sushi at that horrible sushi place next to our work. That place got condemned twice and it kept reopening –┬ádidn’t stop us.

We may have even enjoyed some sake’s on our lunch breaks before returning to work – I’m not at liberty to say for sure.

 

He was overworked

There is a thick irony to a doctor, dedicated to preserving health and life, taking their own life.

He didn’t work more than other docs, he was full-time at 1.0. But the amount of work he put in definitely was more than some of his colleagues. He cared a lot or maybe that’s how he escaped from the rest of his life.

Naturally, the administration always added more patients to the schedule, required more responsibility of the PCP’s, and rarely praised them for what went well. I have a soft-spot for PCP’s, it’s not all that glorious.

During our department meetings, he definitely was hardest hit and expressed it vocally, kindly when more work was about to be added on. I felt for him because he cared and he was a good doc.

 

Suicide in medicine

I’ve read much about doctors and suicide. I’m not sure if it’s all that different from one profession to the next but it’s the nature of medicine to feel a heavy sense of responsibility.

Fucking up on a customer’s car isn’t a big deal. You apologize, make it right and move on. Once, at my shop, we took a car out for a test drive after a lot of work, sadly forgot to test the breaks and smashed into a corner wall.

The owner’s car was cherry and so we apologized, got our insurance involved and fixed everything.

The last mistake I made in medicine resulted in that frail diabetic patient dying of sepsis. Another one resulted in death because I didn’t do a thorough exam. I can’t imagine how S would have felt if he ever made a mistake.

I can’t imagine how S would have felt if he ever made a mistake.

Maybe it’s the higher sense of responsibility in medicine, maybe it’s the bigger consequences of medical mistakes.

We had another doctor who committed suicide in that department, in that building, 5 years ago. And another PCP took his life maybe 3 years ago.

 

Medicine isn’t worth it

I knew him and I know the shit he was dealing with.

I am not blaming his job but the majority of his stress was because of the job and the week before leaving he had a notable encounter with the administration.

I know he wasn’t worried about money as much. He was a financially responsible dude. Had bought a sensible $600k home and though he drove a nice SUV, he wasn’t stretching himself out too thin financially.

Anything in excess can be detrimental. Feeling too responsible, trying to be a perfectionist, dancing to the tune of a medical group, and trying to appease the bosses.

Medicine isn’t a bad career, it’s just that it isn’t worth the personal sacrifice. It isn’t developing into a sustainable lifestyle job, if anything it’s regressing.

Primary care doctors are becoming med pushers and number crunchers and society is recognizing the ever decreasing efficacy of these physicians.

 

Cheers to You, S

His family will undoubtedly suffer for quite some time, his colleagues will be affected severely and his patients will have lost a caring and wonderful physician.

Cheers to you buddy! One for you, one for me. Glad that you ain’t suffering no more. Proud to have been your friend. Miss how easy it was to make you laugh and I miss your smiles. I’ll leave a seat for you at the bar…

8 replies on “Another Fallen Comrade”

Dr. Mo, this breaks my heart man. As a specialist I am always amazed at the PCP’s. I see a small piece of the pie and here they are working their butts off to take care of it all. Medicine is a harsh field. We are all privileged to do it, but it takes it’s toll on all of us. My wife see’s it, but it is rare that anyone else does. Not my in-laws or my parents (of note my dad is a radiologist). It is just different then any job and a stark reality of how fragile life is.

My thoughts are with your family and your friends family. I am sad to see another colleague go to suicide.

A part of me secretly wishes that he had other major factors which lead to this outcome. I’m with you, it saddens me to think it’d be work related. Thanks for your warm wishes.

Dr Mo,
So sorry to hear about your good friend. He sounded like a wonderful person. I’m glad many doctors are blogging about financial independence now and making their fellow physicians aware that they too can have an escape plan if medicine becomes overwhelming.

He was loved by all of his patients. Amazing kind person and very gentle. I am still shocked!!!

I mourn with those who mourn. Even though I was only able to work with and converse with S on just a few occasions he made an impression on me. Always so incredibly friendly and helpful. His smile would light up a room. May his wife, children, friends, loved ones and patients find some peace and solace during this enormous time of grief and tragedy. May all who practice medicine and feel depressed, anxious or weighed down by the stress of work/finances/family… find something or someone as an outlet for that stress. RIP Dr S you’ll be missed but never forgotten

For some reason on my shift tonight, Dr, S popped into my head. I owe it to him and your tribute on this blog to memorialize again what a good human he was to us as colleagues and his patients of course. I appreciate docs who care. Dr S was one of the good ones. Gone way to soon. To all of us still in the trenches of medicine (primary care and urgent care especially), remind yourself that medicine is never worth losing your life over. Balance yourself, take time off, go on disability, simplify, change careers… life is too short and fragile. Appreciate the help over the years Mo of how to deal with a high stress career of medicine. Peace and love brotha

April 20th, 2017. I love that you remembered him man – what a guy. I remember going to his office once because he was way behind and I would always use his desk for my urgent care shift, he was helping out this older woman who was a bit disagreeable and didn’t want to go to the hospital. S. was doing everything to convince her to go because he pneumonia was really bad and he called her son to come help convince her… I mean, I gotta say it, but I would have put in my effort but then pulled out the AMA form and went on to the next patient. Every time I see a gray Range Rover Sport – that’s him rolling over to Vandever.

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