When I tell people I spent the night in the Emergency Department (ED) of my hospital, the first reaction I get is a gasp.
After I explain that I wasn’t injured or sick and that I was there all night because I wanted to, the response is usually: “Are you crazy?”
Perhaps I am. But I needed to learn about the ED and this is the only way I knew how to do it.
I decided to do my observation on a Friday night, so that I could sleep in as much as possible over the weekend. This meant I went into work at 4 pm on Friday afternoon - to squeeze a meeting in and take care of a few e-mails before my night would begin. A little after 5, I made my way down to the ED and decided not to leave for at least 12 hours. I wanted to know what the hospital was like in the middle of the night and to see our caregivers provide patient care for 12 hours straight.
Observations / memories:
1) No one knew who I was.
Some staff members did not acknowledge my presence. Others gave off the vibe that I was in their way all of the time. Most people, however, took the time to speak with me and learn that I was not, in fact, an undergraduate pre-med volunteer. Unfortunately, my title, “mission fellow,” did not shed much light on my presence. I found myself explaining my job title to almost everyone. Mission Integration seemed to be a foreign concept, until I explained myself further. Then I saw the light bulbs go off. Despite this effort, to some people, I probably remained a spy sent by the Chief Nursing Officer to take note of the mistakes I saw.
2) Things were busy.
Just when I thought things could not get any busier, a call came over the radio from an ambulance - they were 3-5 minutes away and wanted to know which room was available. A few times, there was not a room. Soon I learned how to clean and re-stock the emergency rooms. I was glad to have the opportunity to pitch in and not helplessly stand around.
3) It was a little scary.
The big news about EDs today is that people are misusing them to provide primary care. I did see this, but I also saw many people who needed to be there - drug overdoses, nursing home residents in their last days & severe allergic reactions. All of these patients brought sights, sounds and smells that are not easily forgotten. This left me with the thought: healthcare is not for the timid.
People who work in the ED are AWESOME. The careful care provided at all hours of the day/night by physicians, nurses, techs, phlebotomists, respitory specialists, unit secretaries, janitorial staff and registrars is a breathtaking sight to behold. And, as if that wern’t enough, they were kind to teach me all about it. This has been the best clinical exposure I’ve had thus far.