I am a doctor. I try my best to help people. Today was a kind of shitty day.

A young man came into the ER in cardiac arrest. We got him back, but only for an hour. I spent the next 90 min trying to save him. I lost the fight.

One of my nurses in the ICU, a friend and a Jew, said something along the lines of "it can't all make sense... it's why I'm sure I don't understand god's ways."

To which I replied, "It's why I'm pretty sure he doesn't exist."

Got a few eyebrows raised I think. Wasn't trying to be provocative, I was sad. I wanted him to live. We did our best (and I really mean that, lots of sweat and tears shed today - and that's just from the medical staff). But he didn't make it.

I'm a recently decided/declared atheist. I don't talk a lot about it. Is this taboo in medical circles? Should I not mention it?

Having a difficult evening...

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My sympathies on losing the fight, Mike. I can't imagine the pain doctors and nurses go through with this kind of thing.


As far as speaking your mind being taboo in medical circles, I don't see why it should be. Your friend clearly felt it was acceptable to mention their beliefs, there's no reason that you shouldn't chime in with yours as well. It's not like you were snapping at patients who were praying or anything like that. It was just a couple professionals commiserating with one another, sharing their opinions.

I think Mike might be worried about overblown reactions, not reasonable ones. Ask Damon Fowler. My sister is a doctor and has shared some of her heartbreaking stories as well, so I commiserate with Mike. I hope his colleagues are reasonable people and not irrational ones. That's what makes all the difference.

My sympathies as well Mike. My mom worked at a hospital for many years and it at times quite draining.

I agree with Dave that as professional you should be able to share opinions.

Everyone deals with pain in their own way.  Doctors and nurses have it the worst because they deal with death and loss every day in a way the rest of us don't.  Some have to latch onto God as the ultimate hot water bottle in order to accept the unacceptable or find an outlet for the pain and horror that their job inflicts on them.  Frankly, I think everyone involved should shut up and not express their religious views when it comes to their coping mechanisms, but should instead have regular and frequent visits with a qualified mental health professional to keep the job from overwhelming them (and that that visit should be paid for and provided as part of a demanding and difficult profession).  If finding a god or some other hot water bottle is part of that session, then so be it.  Everyone needs to cope.


And I know that asking people to shut up in times of stress and grief is ridiculously unreasonable.  I do think that we can ask that those expressions not be combative or aggressive.  I think your reply was that; it was a reply to a religious expression that directly contradicted that expression.  I think the first expression was uncalled for and insensitive (Thanking god for hurting people so I can grow as a person?  Fuckin a.), but by the same token, so was the response.


The best thing is to keep coping mechanisms contained and private and make sure stressful situations and the responses to same don't cause unfortunate conflicts.


And that may be a Sisyphian dilemma.

You're an unsung hero, Mike.  Bouquets to all the scientists and hands-on medical people who save lives every day...and we know that sometimes the task is impossible.  I don't understand why people automatically thank god first when doctors and medical staff and procedures save the patient - or hang on to the 'god's will' thing when they don't.  It's always 'let's hear it for god'!!!!!


Sadly, a while back, one of Oz's most eminent neurosurgeons, Dr. Chris O'brien died of a brain tumour.  He was one of the doctors featured in the TV show, RPA - Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.  He died from the disease that he treated people for.  In an interview, when he knew he hadn't long to live, he said "I'm not expecting anything - I expect I'll just go to sleep."  At his funeral, some of which was telecast during a news bulletin, his wife said "Until we meet again".  I really wished that could be possible.  Recently, a terrible shock for Chris' family - his son died from an epileptic seizure - god certainly wasn't looking after that family.  I suppose the christian explanation would be "god acts in mysterious ways".


I'm hoping that tomorrow and all the days that follow will be much better, Mike.  My family and friends know I'm an Atheist.  If I were discussing faith with anyone, I would tell them.  It hasn't affected my morals or how I treat people.  I'm still me.


I visited my daughter in hospital over a couple of months.  One of the pastoral care councillors kept coming to see me.  I told her I was an  Atheist but it made no difference - she kept coming.  We didn't speak of faith but once she asked - don't you believe everything happens for a reason.  I replied - no - I believe there's a reason for everything.  And there is.


No one needs an  imaginary ? (whatever one's perception of god may be) to appeal to.  Obviously no one could help that young man - you did your utmost using your knowledge and skills.....no one could do more.


All the best.....






Thanks all. Good thoughts. Like I said, a couple eyebrows went up, but no one said anything negative or antagonistic. (I think I have earned that, at least).

And I know nothing I could have done would have changed the outcome. Just as I know I'm not unique to these situations, which happen every day, everywhere. I don't find it hard helping people die when it's their time. I just don't like seeing young folks die, for no good reason, before they've had a chance to live.

Thanks for the good wishes.

Hi Mike,


Not sure about medical circles but definitely touchy when it comes to death and dying. About keeping your feelings to yourself, I don't think you have to. You have a right to express yourself as much as someone can say to you please pray for her/him.  It's funny you mentioned the jewish person. The god of the old testament is the reason, well one of the reasons, I am not a practicing jew. Check out this video I just posted and you will see how that person's quote "don't understand gods ways" is EXACTLY why we are atheists and why you it exists.


I hope it gets easier. As always we are here for support.

I know of one other physician who is an atheist. She is my sister-in-law. I doubt she mentions it at work since she works at a Jewish hospital, but when I am around her, off work, she blasphemes just as good as anyone.

i wish there were more doctors like you brave enough to state the obvious.  it's also strange that such an act must be categorized as brave in the year 2011. 




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