Coping with death | Association of Anaesthetists

Coping with death

What to do when the worst happens

As an anaesthetist your training covers the safe delivery of anaesthesia. But very little training is given on how to deal with an intra-operative death and the impact on your mental wellbeing.

Unfortunately, as an anaesthetist you will almost certainly be involved with a death at some point in your career, and it can have a traumatic and stressful effect on you and the entire team if the aftermath is not handled effectively.

How you may be affected

Following the incident there will almost certainly be some sort of team debrief. This is essential as it gives you and your team a safe space to talk about what happened and voice any opinions or concerns.

But you may also continue to be affected physically and emotionally.

You may keep reliving the event in your mind and feel restless and wound-up. You may have trouble sleeping or find it difficult to do everyday tasks. You may feel guilty and feel you failed your patient in some way. You may even feel angry about what happened.

Your relationships may be affected too. There may be a tendency to withdraw from those closest to you and feel that ‘no one understands what you’re going through’.

It’s important to ask for help

If you’re experiencing any of the above and need to talk to someone right away, contact the BMA Counselling Service on 0330 123 1245. This line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Read more

Catastrophes in Anaesthetic Practice – Dealing with the Aftermath

Pragmatic ways of dealing with the aftermath of a death or serious injury during anaesthesia. Published by the Association of Anaesthetists, 2005.

Further reading