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Book and Media Reviews
August 5, 2009

A Sadly Troubled History: The Meanings of Suicide in the Modern Age

JAMA. 2009;302(5):573-577. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1130

Physicians—and not just psychiatrists—are terribly afraid of suicide among their patients. Last year, in my hospital, a patient quietly (at least seemingly) waiting his turn in the surgical unit for a procedure decided that he would have no more of it. Using a coin, he tinkered with a bolted window, opened it, and jumped out onto a ledge. He spent some time pacing the span of the ledge to and fro, like someone getting increasingly impatient at a waiting room, while the army of Washington press descended below, documenting every morbid utterance, exasperated sigh, and horrified gasp. The man paused, and for a while appeared placid; then, in a fraction of a moment, he jumped a second time, this time onto the pavement below, in front of the horrified throng. Spectators' screams drowned out the thud of his body. Obtunded and bleeding, he was rushed back inside the hospital in the waiting, resuscitating arms of his own medical team, a team now presumably and irreversibly changed by this event. The man later died. His death provoked a hospital-wide inquest, a process arguably as painful for the physicians as the act of witnessing this man die in this manner.

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