A night in the ED

It was a rough week for clinical. I came in on our usual clinical day, Thursday, despite not having to, thinking I could get in a few extra clinical hours before my ED assignment on Friday evening. Thursday was more than I bargained for. Since I wasn’t actually assigned to come in, I thought I might be a floater, and not have any patient assignments, as was done in the past for other students, but I was wrong. OK. Shrug it off. So it’s a little more paperwork. As I was walking down the hall to find my patient, I heard moaning and cries. I looked at the room number, saw it was mine, and my heart froze for a second. I knew it was not going to be an easy assignment, and I was right.

It was manageable right until she was told she was NPO, and then things got hairy. She wanted to go home, threatening to walk right out, despite not even being capable of standing up without 2 person assist. For most of the evening, there were at least two of us in there, trying to keep her calm and in bed. I pulled out every distraction trick I knew, and sometimes it worked, while other times it didn’t. It was horrible. I felt horrible. I wanted to ease her pain and help her find solace, but all I could do was hold her hand and stroke her hair as she oscillated between quiet sobbing and shrieks for the doctor, her mother, her boyfriend. I felt so powerless.

I came home exhausted and my body screamed in pain. And when I woke up the next morning, I had to prepare for a night in the ED. This weekend there was a huge event going on for the local college, and I was thinking it’d be a night sobering up college kids who had partied too enthusiastically, or watching the suturing of lacerations left behind by the cocktail of machismo and youthful impulse. But I wasn’t on that side of the ED last night. Instead, we had more cardiac emergencies, angina, etc. and one particular patient got me thinking.

He was an older gentleman and his wife, who came in because of shortness of breath and chest pain. They were such a pleasant couple, still in love with each other and endearing to watch. And for the rest of the evening, I thought of myself and my husband being in that position. Both of us, a few decades older than we are now, me using a walker to get around, and he with his pleasant ways, despite not feeling well and sitting on a gurney with monitors beeping and buzzing and leads getting tangled with very hand gesture. He relied on her to know his meds and help give the RNs some history. And I wondered to myself how it would be when my husband and I got older.

Would I be able to help us accomplish the basic ADLs without help at that age? Will I be able to help him to and from the toilet? Would I be able to help myself? Would we be able to afford help? It’s a scary proposition getting older, and for the first time, I’m beginning to see myself in the shoes of the patients I come in contact with…

I came home exhausted, physically and emotionally, and I wonder how these nurses do it every day, 12 hour shifts, constantly working because of understaffing, and keeping their families in one piece. These people are strong people, accomplished people, and I admire them more with each passing day.


2 thoughts on “A night in the ED

  1. In the back of my mind I had thought about it but after witnessing several situations, I bought long term care insurance. Between Lyme and reflections such as yours, I needed it for peace of mind. It’s amazing how working with patients has had broadened my outlook on many things. 8)

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