How Life Changes When You’re Working With Death.

Valar morghulis.

This is probably not going to be the most fun one to read, but I promise it’s going to be an honest one. And a realistic one. And sometimes different approaches create a different impact on us, which helps our minds to grow. So I invite you to switch on the thought-machine and read on.

If you’ve stumbled across my writing before you might know that I recently quit my job as an anesthetist.

When you are working in emergency medicine and critical care you are exposed to a lot of situations in which you learn how incredibly immediate life can actually be.

And there’s much we can learn from that.


It’s funny how we grow up and think we’ll all live happily to be a hundred years old and then simply, peacefully not wake up one morning.

But that’s not how life works.

Either we die a sudden, quick death, which is good for us, but then our family suffers from the tragedy. Or we die a slow, often painful death, which might be better for our surroundings because we’re not straight torn out of their midst, but… well… sucks for us.

So… dying is bad. Wow. What an epiphany.

The thing is, it’s mostly not up to us to decide how we leave this earth.

Yes, a healthy lifestyle helps in enhancing the chances that you will grow old and live a happy, healthy life and is incredibly important to have. Even just making up your mind about how old you want to become correlates with the actual age people achieve.

The mind is a powerful thing, isn’t it?

But you know what else is powerful?

The bus that hits you while you cross the road.

I know I am being dark, but sometimes reality IS dark and we have to realize the fact that — while not likely — there’s a chance of us getting hit by a bus tomorrow, or of simply falling off a ladder… heck, people have been killed by coconuts.

Then again… ‘death by food’ is probably one of the better ways to go… but I digress…

What you learn when you’re working in emergency medicine is truly how often lives come to an end when nobody was expecting it.

It’s one thing when an 87-year-old grandfather of 8 dies from a stroke. It’s unfortunate and the family suffers.

But it’s another thing when the 33-year-old mother of three kids with the oldest being 8 dies in a car crash.

So many people die younger than we are right now and this sentence upholds it’s true no matter what age you are.

Yet we still never see it even as an option that this could happen to us, too.

But it can. And sometimes it even does.

I’ve seen so many people younger than me die of accidents, cancer, suicide, you name it. Whenever that happens, it’s always a tragedy. We always think of oh how tragic the situation is and how bad the family must feel when in fact we can’t even grasp the slightest of how the husband of said 33-year-old woman must have felt. Or the children that grow up without their mum.

And then?

Then we go home and our life goes on.

And we forget about all that again because our brains never dare to dive deeper into that “What if?”-thought.

But it’s incredibly important that we do.


Reevaluate the road.

“Memento mori”.

I am sure you’ve heard this before. It’s Latin and means as much as “Remember that you must die” or “Be mindful of death”.

If Latin is too dusty for you, just go with “Valar morghulis”.

When you’re not in emergency medicine, chances are you’re not constantly exposed to dying people. And that’s good.

But from time to time we have to think about the fact, that tomorrow we could be dead.

I hate the saying “Life each day like it’s your last”. It’s worn-out so much that I actually threw up a little in my mouth just typing it. Not to mention it’s a complete disaster to include in our mindset for a better life.

After all, we don’t want to be junkies with a needle in the arm lying on the street, we want to live a long and happy life.

But how do we know if we truly live a happy life? Simple.

Ask yourself this question:

“If I died today, would I say that I have lived a happy life and made the most out of my time?”

In my article about redefining success, I wrote about how my attitude towards earning money and delaying life had changed in the past.

Much of it had to do with my work.

After being exposed to all those people, who’s lives had come to an end at around my age, I more and more started to accept the possibility of me not making it to my retirement.

Don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe that I WILL grow old and look back on a long and happy life, but it’s the acceptance of the possibility of this not being the case that is important.

What if your plan was to work hard for 10 years and then finally have time for family and travel and suddenly, in year 9, you get hit by a bus and die?

Then you’ve done something for 9 years that didn’t actually bring you joy and fulfillment.

You’re not gonna look back and said you had a long and happy life. You had a short time here and if that was spent with things that you think you had to do instead of doing something you actually liked… well… you screwed up your life, didn’t you?

I am not suggesting that it’s wrong to invest time in things. Sometimes good things take a while.

But doing something that you don’t like with the purpose of later doing something else that you actually want to do is the mistake.

We’re always so trapped in making plans for the future that when the future is actually here, we already made new plans for the future.

See, what we’re doing is we plan and plan and plan but we never really get there.

It’s literally of vital importance that from time to time we step back and reevaluate the process we are in that leads us to achieve the plan.

We need to constantly reevaluate the road to see if it’s a joyful drive that leads us to the destination we plan to arrive at.

Because life isn’t the destination we plan to arrive at. It’s the driving itself.

After all, we never arrive anywhere in life. Because that’s not life. Life is the driving. The arrival is death.

Therefore so many people make plans on where to turn and which way to go then, always being one step ahead of their actual position. They are always thinking about where to go next, so they never take the time to look out the window.

So I invite you to do it.

Stop that car for a second and look out that window.

Do you like what you see?

If you don’t, maybe it’s time to take a different turn at the next crossroads.


So what’s the take away here now?

Working in emergency medicine I was confronted with how harsh and dark reality can actually be. We often live our lives in this everlasting state of “tomorrow”, never thinking that at any point that car on the road that is our lives could break down.

We forget that life is constantly moving, constantly changing. It’s never a state. It’s a constant up and down, on and off, left and right.

If we accept that reality is like this, then we can also endure the phases when it’s dark, those tunnels on the road if you so will, for after all, we know that there’s the light at the end again.

And when we’re driving that road at the coast with the beautiful view over the ocean, we appreciate the view even more, when we know that there will be a tunnel again. For we can be sure that it will come.

Photo by Sebastian Staines on Unsplash

Just make sure that next time you are at a crossroads in life you chose the road that leads to that ocean drive instead of the highway through the desert.

And if there are no crossroads coming up?

Well, from time to time a little offroading can be fun, can’t it?

Valar morghulis.


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