ough question that doctors face every day: When do you allow family to witness care, and when do you ask them to leave? A laceration — sure, they can stay and count the stitches. But what about a patient who’s not breathing or has no heartbeat or who requires acute care? Where’s the family’s place then — in or out?

These are not the answers they teach you in medical school.

Sometimes the answer depends on the treatment. A laceration — no problem, you’re welcome to stay. We numb the area and stitch it up quickly and no one gets too worked up. (Except for one tall, strapping guy who passed out when I started stitching up his son.)

A kid with a broken bone is another story. If the bone needs to be reduced so the pieces are properly placed for healing, I send the parents out. We sedate the child, and I let the parents stay until the child is asleep, but then they need to leave. Besides for the danger of radiation from the X-rays, it’s just too gory. There’s no nice way to reduce a broken bone. I do the tough work when they’re not there because the optics are too frightening.

But it’s not always so clear.

Michael was 35 years old, a young husband and father. His airway was closing and he needed a tube placed in his trachea to allow him to continue breathing. His wife was there and his parents were there, and they were scared.

I was worried too. It didn’t look good, and we didn’t know how this was going to end.

On the one hand, it’s tremendously reassuring for family members to witness their loved ones getting care. They see us there, see us working, see that we really tried everything possible. If G-d forbid there is a tragic outcome, they have a certain knowledge that we did everything we could.

On the other hand, things can get dicey in the ER, and when that happens, the last thing you want is to have to manage extra people who are panicking.

In this case I was spared the decision — Michael’s wife and parents stepped out of the room as soon as we began working. The intubation went well, and even before the airway was fully secured, I told the nurse to call the family back in.

“But we’re not done yet,” she protested.

“They’re so worried!” I told her. “Just call them back in so they can see he’s okay!”