"I Witnessed A Person Die Right In Front Of Me For The First Time In My Life"

A medical student reflects on the first time she witnessed a patient's death.

Cover image via Izyan Nadhirah

Izyan Nadhirah is a third-year medical student at the Perdana University-Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (PU-RCSI)

Image via Izyan Nadhirah

Fondly known as Izzy, the 22-year-old has been working at the Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) recently for her clinical attachment.

A student like Izzy would have spent a lot of time at medical school learning how to save lives, and not how to tend to a patient's demise. So how do people in the healthcare practice actually cope with the grief and stress of dealing with the loss of a patient?

Izzy, who witnessed someone dying for the first time, shares her own reflection.

The incident happened on 7 April. A woman was dying in the hospital and the medical student was there to watch it all unfold before her very eyes.

"I witnessed a person die right in front of me for the first time in my life," Izzy recalled.

"I was checking a patient's chart on a table beside her bed and there was an ECG monitor (a device used to monitor critically ill patients) in front of me."

Izzy noticed that the woman was breathing through a non-rebreather mask, which meant that the patient required high-concentration oxygen. Her breathing was slow.

"Her children were beside her. I looked up at one point and saw the ECG monitor slowly changed from few waves to asystole (flatline)."

"Her chest suddenly stopped rising and the airbag that was attached to the mask stopped expanding."

As the woman lay there motionless and breathed her last, reality sank in slowly. It was the end of her suffering.

"Her children shook her, trying to wake her up," Izzy said.

"Then, they looked at me, expecting me to do something as they thought I was a doctor. Since I am just a medical student, all I can do was just notify the nurse nearest to me quickly."

Izzy did what she could, then looked and observed how the woman's death immediately affected her loved ones.

"The thing that hits me the hardest is the pleading look in their eyes, expecting me to make a wondrous save, and I was just standing there feeling so helpless. And the fact that death can take its toll in a short amount of time without us knowing it."

Image via Izyan Nadhirah

Izzy never knew what really happened to the patient but she realised that this would be the first of many to come

"I didn't know her diagnosis. I only knew that she was in constant pain for a few days," she said.

"I witnessed how the nurses handled her and wrapped her up. I never realised how fragile a body looks without life."

As she ponders about the events of this incident, Izzy knows that this is how dealing with death feels like and has concluded she needs to build nerves of steel.

"I guess I am more aware that life is short and death can happen really quickly without you realising it. But being in the medical world, you just have to live through it because you will face many patients with many diseases and many unplanned circumstances."

"All you can do is just stay strong as you will have to face all these every day."

Izzy's story is one of many others featured on the Malaysian City Life series on SAYS. Do you have a story or experience to share, or have you seen any we should write about?

SUBMIT YOUR STORY NOW. FB message us or email us at [email protected] about your intent to share something with us. It could be about a particular time in your life as an urban city-dweller in Malaysia, or it could be a story you've seen or heard.

We'll get in touch with you for your story to be featured on SAYS!

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Previously on Malaysian City Life #56, we featured Mohd. Zulhairi Zainol, who has been providing the poor with a hearse to carry the bodies of the deceased from the hospital:

You may be interested in: