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We Shouldn’t Have to Tweet Our Trauma

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.
Image: AS Photo Studio/Shutterstock

Secondary trauma is the official term for the trauma healthcare workers experience caring for patients facing traumas or deaths. Every physician has their stories. We have all heard the wail of grieving mother. It is a sound that haunts. We have seen families shattered in an instant. We have held hands as people died. We have seen suffering. Often our grief is complicated by guilt. Guilt that perhaps we could have done more to prevent the death. These traumas accumulate over years and lead to burnout, emotional numbing, and in some unhealthy coping behaviors such as drinking. Some seek counselors or ministers. Some confide in spouses. In my experience when healthcare providers gather we share some of the unusual encounters we have had — the objects recovered from noses or rectums or the outlandish tales from clinic. But I have found people keep the traumas to themselves. We all suffer in silence. Twitter has now brought a new forum for airing these traumas. A virtual water-cooler.

The hashtag #thosewecarry and #shareastoryinonetweet took off on medical Twitter this spring. #thosewecarry was more specifically focused on deaths/traumas. #shareastoryinonetweet eliciited not only tales of deathes/traumas but stories showing the humanity of both patients and providers alike. This movement has its detractors in part as many of the stories are unique enough as to be identifiable.

#thosewecarry was launched first. It is a twitter account with the name “The Haunted One” that re-tweets anonymous tweets and to which followers can tag @thosewecarry. The pinned tweet lists the rules: 1: This is a safe place, but public. Nothing easily identifiable, please. 2: Be aware that these stories carry significant emotional memories. They’re hard to read, and they were hard to write. Be kind. 3: No abuse, no bickering.”

Here are some tweets posted to #thosewecarry:

As Brian Fishman says, these stories are hard to read.

Even reading them over can contribute to trauma. Does feeling part of the community and knowing others share similar experiences benefit more than the harm of reading a litany of sad stories ?

Others took to this hashtag to tweet stories of survivorship and hope.

Others found solace in the tweets.

One tweeter, Natalie Martinek took to twitter to criticize the airing of stories.

Others like Shannon McNamara acknowledge the grief we all carry and urges a more systematic and institutional way to deal with them.

These stories are at the same time beautiful and difficult to read. There is certainly a warm feeling to know that you are not the only one carrying these burdens. I wonder if most healthcare provider suffer from PTSD from some of the experiences we have lived through. The common elements of loss, and grief, and hope in these stories foster a kinship. But the criticisms of breaking confidentiality are valid. Sharing these stories should be for healing and not for one-upmanship. Perhaps as providers we can create safe spaces within our community that are healing, protect confidentiality, and are safe. Some institutions have debriefings after deaths or trauma incidents. Perhaps just as time-outs before surgery became standard of care in a few years, a debriefing should be standard of care after a trauma or death.

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