The death of a beloved friend or family member instills such painful emotions, most that are too complex and sorrowful to understand without having undergone such an experience yourself. That being said, deaths also have an effect on doctors whose job it is to break the news to the friends and family of the deceased.
Louis M. Profeta, MD, is an Emergency Physician at St. Vincent Emergency Physicians in Indianapolis, Indiana. In order to explain the reason behind why he looks into a patient’s Facebook page before telling parents of the deceased of the loss, Profeta took to his LinkedIn page in the form of a post titled, “I’ll Look At Your Facebook Profile Before I Tell Your Mother You’re Dead.” (1, 2)
Dr. Profeta’s Viral LinkedIn Post
Profeta’s post attracted thousands of likes and comments mainly due to the openness and honesty he shares. In an effort to explain his reasons for checking dead patient Facebook profiles, Profeta started off personally, saying, “It kind of keeps me human. You see, I’m about to change their lives — your mom and dad, that is.”
Profeta goes on to explain that “Right now, to be honest, you’re just a nameless dead body that feels like a wet bag of newspapers that we have been pounding on, sticking IV lines and tubes and needles in, trying desperately to save you. There’s no motion, no life, nothing to tell me you once had dreams or aspirations.” While Profeta’s explanation might sound harsh, he’s simply trying to explain what it’s like to be a doctor in his position. Profeta says, “I owe it to [the parents] to learn just a bit about you before I go in.”
Something that might surprise many readers is the emotion certain deaths evoke in Profeta. The doctor says, “All I am is mad at you, for what you did to yourself and what you are about to do to them….I owe it to your mom to peek inside of your once-living world.”
Profeta goes on to say,
“Maybe you were texting instead of watching the road, or you were drunk when you should have Ubered. Perhaps you snorted heroin or Xanax for the first time or a line of coke, tried meth or popped a Vicodin at the campus party and did a couple of shots.
“Maybe you just rode your bike without a helmet or didn’t heed your parents’ warning when they asked you not to hang out with that ‘friend,’ or to be more cautious when coming to a four-way stop. Maybe you just gave up.
“Maybe it was just your time, but chances are… it wasn’t.”
Why Doctor Checks Dead Patients Facebook Page
While an explanation for Profeta’s apparent apathy is fascinating, it doesn’t answer the question of why he examines dead patient’s Facebook page before talking to their parents. Profeta begins explaining this process, saying, “I pick up your faded picture of your driver’s license and click on my iPhone, flip to Facebook and search your name. Chances are we’ll have one mutual friend somewhere. I know a lot of people.” Then Profeta delves into his in-depth, almost emotional explanation…
“I see you wearing the same necklace and earrings that now sit in a specimen cup on the counter, the same ball cap or jacket that has been split open with trauma scissors and pulled under the backboard, the lining stained with blood. Looks like you were wearing it to the U2 concert. I heard it was great.
“I see your smile, how it should be, the color of eyes when they are filled with life, your time on the beach, blowing out candles, Christmas at Grandma’s; oh you have a Maltese, too. I see that. I see you standing with your mom and dad in front of the sign to your college. Good, I’ll know exactly who they are when I walk into the room. It makes it that much easier for me, one less question I need to ask.
“You’re kind of lucky that you don’t have to see it. Dad screaming your name over and over, mom pulling her hair out, curled up on the floor with her hand over her head as if she’s trying to protect herself from unseen blows.
“I check your Facebook page before I tell them you’re dead because it reminds me that I am talking about a person, someone they love — it quiets the voice in my head that is screaming at you right now shouting: ‘You mother f–ker, how could you do this to them, to people you are supposed to love!'”
Profeta’s words remind us how important it is to think about how our actions affect others, or how they could affect others if a situation goes badly. So hug your parents, drive safely, and remember that your actions have consequences.