We said goodbye to Mr. Rondell Williams twice in one week. The first was at his goodbye party organized by the nurses and techs in our department. He was leaving us for a new opportunity within the hospital. He would be close by but not a day-to-day part of our department. He was excited and proud and we were excited and proud for him.

Rondell was a product of our community. Born in our hospital 32 years earlier. He had kin who also worked for our hospital. He started as a security guard at 18 and after a brief stint in the military had returned. He had been a registration clerk in our department for about eight years. Essentially a front line support person.

The second time we said goodbye was at his funeral 10 days later. He died unexpectedly and suddenly, surrounded and cared for by those he had cared for. It was a truly beautiful funeral service attended by several hundred people. Rondell had a large family and many friends.

There also were people from literally every nook and cranny of our hospital.  Nurses, techs, administrators, and physicians. The local Police and Fire Departments were also well represented. Gathered to say goodbye to this special man.

All organizations have their Rondell’s. They are vastly more important than their titles imply. They are the ones who hold us together. They define our institutions. Mr. Rondell William’s was no exception.

positive energyWhat made him so special? It was simple. He literally was an endless reserve of positive energy. It was bottomless. He distributed it freely and without reservation to everyone. To  patients, their families, EMS and Police, and especially our staff. He knew everyone’s name, and of course there were the handshakes.

Rondell cultivated a personal relationship with everyone he encountered. It came in the form of his greeting to you (Dr. Ahhh-din-aro!), and a death grip handshake with various elements of dapping (or a big hug) each specific to the individual. Ours ended with the phrase “Semper Fi”!

Then came the hook. The thing he would talk to you about. The thing you would bond over. For me it was men’s suits and shoes (“looking great Dr. Adinaro!) for others it was just as private and unique. The effect on the recipient was universal. It made your day just that much better. He was a walking confidence booster. Until he was about to leave he never told us how proud he was of us. But we knew. His care of us was intentional and much needed.

We ER folk all wear a certain amount of armor to cope with the sadness, violence and loss that we experience on a daily basis.  We all do a certain amount of whistling past the grave yard. Our humor can be somewhat ghoulish. Then we go home and try to put those feeling behind us. To forget the parts of the world that both repel and attract us.

Grief and mourning are profound and difficult things for everyone. But it feels particularly difficult for those on the front end of healthcare. There is no distance. You must mourn while you take care of others. You must grieve  while seeing others sick or dying. You must confront your own mortality.

His death sent a shock wave through the close knit staff of the Paterson ER. Those first few weeks were very difficult. The loss of one of our own gets under that armor.  Our success at coping with the normal grief we experience is varied. Some days good. Others not so much. The loss of one so close tests our coping mechanisms.

Most nurses and doctors show some form of burnout after a few years. We blame it on the long hours, intense situations, working nights, but rarely accept exposure to death as one of the causes. For me it was trouble sleeping. More specifically of being afraid to go to sleep because I might not wake up. It started after the loss of my Sister-in-law and was intensified by the job that I love and it lasted for years. It was accompanied by intense bouts of depersonalization.

Until I wrote those words just now maybe I had told two people besides my wife about that. It is not in the DNA of physicians to talk about the effect their careers have on their mental health. I suspect the same thing is true for nurses. It is embarrassing to admit that it might not be healthy for me to be an emergency physician any more.

quality-assurance-cultureIt has now been a few months since we lost Rondell. He is far from forgotten and I think about him frequently. The department has continued on. New bonds and support systems have formed. Many, I suspect, inspired by this great man. I sleep better at night and am less afraid. Writing and talking has helped as well as drawing courage from those close by. I am still willing to chase the tail of the tiger who can bite me.

I hope these words are a comfort to others. And that Rondell’s family knows how much we loved him.

Semper Fi.