Happy Monday, everybody! Although I pride myself on catching the obscure snapshots of typical life moments that occur daily while dealing with patients and their families in the emergency department, occasionally there are times when I am so focused on the task at hand that I completely fail to see a glaring moment of obvious humor, sadness, or tenderness. At times like this, then, I am glad to have our hard-working nurses and techs with me in the room to bear witness to such events.
For example, recently I treated a 62 year-old retired kindergarten teacher who presented to our emergency department for a nosebleed. By appearances, she was exactly what you would picture a retired kindergarten teacher to look like--perfectly permed grey hair, kind eyes, folded "liver-spotted" hands resting in her lap, and the perfect amount of wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth. If not for the actively dripping blood from her left nare (nostril) and the gory blood stains on her white cardigan sweater, I would have sworn she was there to simply to review...
Big thanks to my many encouraging friends...it is with you in mind that I have returned with another post. I walked into Room 30 to find two eager sets of eyes awaiting me. One set belonged to a young man, late-twenties, muscular and imposing, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. His eyes were hazel brown, big and inviting, relieved at seeing my entry into their sheltered world. The other set of eyes, darker brown and magnified by her gold-stemmed glasses, belonged to my patient, a woman in her early-sixties. She sat upright in her treatment cot, knees drawn up to her chest and covered by the thin hospital-issued bed sheet.
Clearly, I had interrupted a conversation between them. Upon my entrance into their treatment room, they gave me the respect and gift of silence, a pause in which I would be able to introduce myself. As many of my fellow coworkers would confirm, this does not often happen. Rather, it is not unusual for us providers to walk into a treatment room only to wait for a patient to finish a cell phone conversation (while holding up...
I originally wrote this piece in December, 2010. Recently, I learned that it has been "reborn" in the social media world with over 120k shares from just one resource (thank you, KevinMD). Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences... Emergency, as per the all-knowing Webster, is defined as an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action. Furthermore, an emergency is also defined as an urgent need for assistance or relief.
These definitions sound pretty spot-on, right? When thinking about emergency room settings, even, one can easily correlate the words of Webster to what one would necessitate to be a situation requiring emergency medical treatment. A trauma. Broken bones. A heart attack. A stroke. A seizure. Respiratory distress. A cardiac arrest. The list goes on and on and on. When a critical illness or injury occurs, then, we should all be thankful that we live within a society where emergent, life-saving medical care is available.
Lately, though, it seems the system meant to provide...
Despite the furious pace of the emergency department, he sat within his private bubble of calm on a hallway cot situated just outside the entrance of Room 31. He sat upright, facing the opposite direction from which I approached, with the thinning brown hair of his broad occiput splayed across the upper edge of his pillow. From this approach, I paused for several seconds to appreciate this serene, surreal view of a patient who appeared unaffected despite the scurrying of several staff and ambulance teams around him.
I had signed onto his chart hoping he would be a quick in-and-out patient among the endless sea of critically-ill patients that arrived at our doors that evening. He was 24 years old and his complaint seemed minor--diarrhea and nausea with vomiting for less than twelve hours. His care wouldn't take that long, I figured.
I approached his right side from behind, lightly touching his right shoulder as I came to a stop beside him. He remained facing forward despite my touch.
I leaned into his ear. "Hi, Michael. My name is Dr. Jim and I...
Her wary eyes, magnified from her thick-lensed spectacles, watched my every move as I pulled Room 21's curtain to the side and entered her room. In her early eighties, it was apparent to me that my entrance into her life was more important than the abdominal pain that brought her to our Emergency Department. In the corner sat a slight man with wispy gray hair poking out from the border of his baseball cap, his elbows resting on his thighs as he leaned forward in his chair. His wrinkled face and tired appearance made me question if this man was her son or husband.
I returned my gaze to this patient and gave her a smile as I approached her bedside. Her stoic face softened slightly as I watched the corners of her eyes relax. Her mouth's edges lifted slightly into a hesitant return smile. She was on guard.
Arriving to the side of her cot, I extended my hand to introduce myself. "Hello, Ms. Westin. My name is Dr. Jim and I will be taking care of you today while you are in our Emergency Department."
"Hello, Doctor," she replied, barely grasping my hand in...
After finishing an amazing novel, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, I put down my hard-copy and marveled at the power of the written word. This power was most evident by my multiple ear-tagged pages--pages that held expertly chosen words construed into sentences, paragraphs and chapters of brilliancy by this gifted author. Simply put, Mr. Green's eloquence affected my core, constantly leaving me in awe at how he pierced my emotional protective shell with his intimate portrayals and intrusions into the struggling lives of others.
At one point in this book, a main character was sitting on her lawn, staring at her aging swing set, wistfully remembering the innocent beautiful moments of her childhood. Moments that were no more. And with this visual of her swing set, I was suddenly transported back to my own childhood--back to the powder-blue swing set that sat in our family's yard alongside the lilac bushes and sandbox. Back to the rusted swing set with the plastic pony sitting under the mulberry tree at Gramma's house. Back...
Hello, all. Ideas and stories are gaining clarity in their stew pot, gently being brewed and tenderly stirred by my gaining energy and renewed attention to the complex range of fragile emotions and simple beauties that envelope a typical work day in a busy trauma center. I am again eager to capture in words these pure moments. In the meantime, a good friend brought to my attention the many layers of meaning to the below post. Rereading it, I found it filled with new perspective from when I originally wrote it just three short years ago. I hope you, too, find new meaning in old words.
Walking into Room 33, my next patient, who had come to the ER complaining of cough and cold symptoms, seemed just as I had expected. He appeared relaxed on his medical cot, lying back at 45 degrees, facing the room's door, his legs comfortably extended in front of him and his gown tied correctly behind him. He was a few years shy of middle-age and appeared to be in good physical shape. His sandy blond hair, sprinkled with gray, framed his slightly weathered,...
He was an ornery kind of fellow, evident by his scowl and beady, glaring eyes that greeted me upon my entrance into his room. The nurse, thankfully, had given me a heads-up on this eighty-five year-old gentleman's demeanor. With her kind warning, I felt prepared to be tested by this patient's demanding and abrupt nature.
What I wasn't ready for, though, was this man's physical appearance. He was extremely small in stature, bordering on petite. His frail elderly body, sitting upright with legs dangling over the cot's side, contrasted his enormous, palpable presence. As a felt fedora hovered above his round, veiny face and bulbous nose, his feet swayed several feet above the waxed tiled-floor. His gray-haired wife, equally frail, was sitting quietly in the room's corner chair, clutching her purse while exuding a warm smile and warmer eyes. They appeared a dichotomy of spirits.
Upon entering the room, I acknowledged this kind woman by nodding and returning her warm greeting. "Hello, ma'am," I said, "you have a beautiful smile. Thank you for being here...
I smelled the patient, unfortunately, even before walking into his room to introduce myself. From the hallway, his odor of lingering stale smoke flared my nostrils, instigating childhood recollections of the wood-burning furnace at my grandmother's home. From a distance, the scent of smoke was just that--charred-burnt air, its weight clinging to my nostrils. As I approached the patient, however, the scent of smoke smoldered my wishful memories of Gramma's furnace. This was not the smell of crisp, dry maple and oak wood pieces flaming to heat a house, but rather the lingering smell of those little brittle white sticks of tobacco that come twenty to a pack.
I walked into Room 21, its closed curtain contributing to the suffocating staleness of the cigarette smoke, to find a 53 y.o. man sitting upright in hit cot, facing me. His face was wrinkled and leathery, his eyes weary. His thick gray hair was combed back away from his forehead. His lips were dry and cracked, his nose bulbous and veiny. He looked years older than what his chart conveyed. Sitting...
rarely get sick with the numerous strains of “bugs” that seem to go around our
community this time of year, the week prior to my return to work for my next
scheduled string of four shifts was spent mainly in bed, coughing and aching
and whining about how miserable I felt. Fully recovered, though, I was excited
to return to the emergency department to do my fair share of stamping out
disease and healing thy patient from illness and injury.
Room 21 to see my first patient of the day, however, made me cringe just a bit
and suddenly, I wished I could have been back in my bed at home for just one
The patient was
young, in his mid-twenties, and appeared to be in significant pain. He was
alone. His short-cropped hair was calmly neat, belying his grimaced, pinched
face and restless arms and legs that rocked his compact body against the cot’s
rails in defiance to his discomfort. His nurse, Sam, one of my favorites, was
hurriedly placing an IV into the patient’s right arm.