Working in emergency care is exhausting in a way few professions are. Trauma workers see their patients die all the time, and it's hard for them not to get burnt out from the exhaustion of being in such intensely charged moments all the time.
While people in emergency medicine often acknowledge how exhausting it is to be in such proximity with tragedy, few hospitals incorporate ways to address death into standard procedure. Trauma workers at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville have been doing something different, however. They have started taking a moment of silence after their efforts at bringing a patient from the edge fail in an attempt to ground themselves and acknowledge the magnitude of these moments.
Jonathan Bartels, an emergency nurse at UVA, says the practice now being called "The Pause" helps workers feel more present and entitled to whatever grief they feel. "I remember defeat and exhaustion, but also more than that: a kind of vacancy," he wrote in Critical Care Nurse, "a space where the pull of emotion gets tamped down by time, fatigue, and grief, leaving an empty numbness in its place."
He told NPR he took huge solace in The Pause when a chaplain asked everyone in the ER to remain with him while he prayed over a body. While many people in the room were of a different religious tradition or non-religious, many said taking a moment to reflect on the tragedy they had just borne witness to was refreshingly heartening.
In allowing oneself to feel, Bartels said, he and other trauma workers could better connect with and better care for patients and their families. The Pause has become standard procedure in his department and is getting popular in others, where doctors have acknowledged the value of reflecting on the moment.