A few years after I started my solo practice, it had become busy enough that I started a search for an ophthalmic partner. I found a hardworking doctor, and when he came aboard he eagerly wanted to participate in every aspect of the practice. He was engaged, enthusiastic, and energetic, and he was willing to put in extra hours to help the practice grow. I offered him partnership, and the negotiations were successfully completed, the legal papers signed, and even a name change for the practice begun. It seemed as though everything was going forward as planned.
This doctor had purchased a home with his partner in a lovely neighborhood, and his surgical volume was going up. All appeared to be going in a positive direction. I was with him when he called his mother to tell her the good news; he told her to stop crying because she was so happy.
Unfortunately, the good news was not to last. If someone has mental health issues, even having everything on the right track may not be adequate to resolve underlying depression.
A LATE NIGHT CALL
A few short months later, I got a call late one night from my new partner’s significant other saying that the ophthalmologist had gone into one of our offices, injected himself with an anesthetic agent, and used surgical tools to slit his wrists. He had then called 911 and was whisked to the ER at the local small-community hospital, where he and I were both on staff.
That night, at our office, our regular office cleaners refused to clean the blood from the carpet. Hearing this, my husband and I went there and got down on our hands and knees to scrub the blood out of the carpet. To our surprise, the area was not even visibly stained the next day when we opened for business.
His suicide attempt was a great shock to me; I was young and much less experienced than today. We did not initially share the details of the suicide attempt with staff members or patients. They were told only that the doctor had had a medical emergency and had to be hospitalized. We stood by him during his lengthy hospitalization period and assured him that, with medication and therapy, all should be OK. While he was hospitalized, his significant other shared with us the information that this was our new partner’s fourth suicide attempt.
After his discharge from the hospital, it was decided that it would be best for him not to return to our practice, as he was no longer able to perform surgery and be around sharp instruments.
He moved on, out of the area and, sadly, out of ophthalmology. Years later, we heard that he had killed himself with carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage.
Depression is a very serious disease. Mental illness needs to have all stigma removed from it and be treated as any other medical condition.