Laughter rings out as a child dies.

This post was authored by Brian Nash and posted to The Eye Opener on August 14th, 2010.

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This past week I interviewed the parents and maternal grandparents of a young child who died in a well known hospital in our area. While our investigation of a potential medical malpractice action against this institution and some of its staff is just beginning, one part of the story being told by this family drove me to post this article.

As resuscitation attempts were underway following the cardiac arrest of this 3 year old boy, the mother, holding her child’s hand during this unspeakable tragedy, heard laughter coming from two uninvolved members of the cardiac resuscitation team. Having interviewed thousands of clients and witnesses for over 35 years in practice, I believe I have a fairly good sense of who is telling a story the ‘way it was’ and those who embellish. I have absolutely no doubt that what I was hearing from this mother was nothing but the raw, unvarnished disgusting truth.

Can you imagine being in her position? Your child has undergone a medical procedure several weeks before. You are with your child 24/7, sleeping in a chair and watching for every small sign of improvement, distress, or turn for the worse. You are assured that he is doing well and that you can leave his room for a break while the staff is attending to some routine follow-up care. You come back to the room periodically just to make sure all is going well and are assured everything is just fine. Suddenly, as you are out of the room, you are found by a staff member and told that you should return to your child’s room immediately. You rush back, enter the room and see your little boy surrounded by medical personnel and your baby lying there in a fight for his life. You are allowed to come near (since apparently the resuscitation efforts are now reaching the stage of futile), you grasp his hand and try to offer whatever love and support you can possibly muster in your state of utter shock and disbelief. As you are grappling with this nightmarish situation, you hear some members of the team engaged in some apparently humorous, laugh-provoking conversation. Talk about surreal. Talk about utter stupidity and insensitivity. Not able to process all that is going on around you, you are then told that it’s time to let him go – “We’ve lost him.”

I am recounting this story since I think it bears telling. As I was listening to this tragic and at the same time repulsive story, I couldn’t help but think about all the years I have seen shows and heard stories of how a few healthcare providers (or police, or paramedics, or firemen – or other people who have to deal with tragedy and death on almost a daily basis) can at times become so jaded to death that they lose all sense of propriety and basic decency when in these situations.

How many times have you viewed a scene on TV or in a movie where the humor is so black that it makes you cringe? This real life story didn’t just make me cringe, it has made me resolute – but more on that in a bit.

Psychologists talk about the use of humor as a means of “coping with the fear of death.” Others have observed: “Humor can be an effective way to ease tensions, reduce stress, and open lines of communication among family members when they are faced with death and abjection.” I suspect you have seen black humor which is the hallmark of TV medical shows such as Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy and Nurse Jackie. Obviously, we as human beings must find that humorous handing of real life situations such as illness, injury and even death have an important function in our lives. Why else would these shows have any popularity.

I also understand how some are fascinated and truly entertained by gallows humor. A classic example is attributed to Sir Thomas More, who, as he climbed a rickety scaffold where he would be executed, said to his executioner: “I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up; and for my coming down, let me shift for myself.”

Did you know there is a series called Dead Baby Comedy? One so-called joke goes like this: “What’s funnier than a dead baby? A dead baby in a clown’s suit.” This pathetic excuse for entertainment is described in one online piece as follows: “Whether or not all the jokes are funny, they’re designed to be as potentially offensive as possible.” Well as far as I’m concerned, they succeeded – it’s about as offensive as it gets!

Speaking of being “as offensive as it gets,” I cannot begin to tell you the depth of my outrage while I sat listening to our new client’s story this past week. What is wrong with people? Can medical staff be so insensitive, callous, disrespectful and repugnant as to not understand how their pathetic jaded lives or poorly timed “coping mechanisms” can affect families in such a situation?

I can only hope that if this case is determined to have merit that I will have the opportunity to cross-examine the participants in this moment of humor. I want to see just how funny they find the experience of being deposed in a lawsuit to be. Hopefully I will give them more moments to treasure the next time they find themselves in such a clinical situation. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll be more sensitive to others.

Thank goodness people like these caregivers are in the minority. They should be drummed out of the medical profession. At the same time I wonder – did any other member of the resuscitation team report or discipline these fools?

What is wrong with people?!

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