Good Night

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.

Michael Miller, Jr.