Listen to an audio version of this column, voiced by the author.
The first experience I had as a physical therapist with the death of a patient wasn't in an adult hospital wing. I wasn't surrounded by patients in their eighth or ninth decades of life saying quiet, tearful, yet entirely expected farewells to family. It wasn't as a student, either. As a third-year PT student honing my clinical skills on the adult gastrointestinal surgery and colorectal cancer unit in a large prominent hospital, I was quietly ushered away from such cases when patients began these slippery and sometimes rapid declines. I was moved to a different unit or a different patient for the day. "You don't have to deal with that," they'd say dismissively.
No, I was in a children's hospital. How unfortunately ironic that so many of my clinical superiors and trusted mentors found it inappropriate to expose me to such grave realities during my years of study, perhaps brushing it off as "strategic protectiveness," but mere weeks later as a newly minted clinician, ink barely dry on my new employee badge, I now was expected to fully comprehend and effortlessly navigate the concept of a child's untimely death.