From the moment a patient enters the emergency room, their life becomes your responsibility. Whether they’re the same as you or vastly different, they’re there because they need you. They’ve been through a traumatic experience and they’re looking for just about anything to help them make it through. No one goes to the emergency room for their routine checkup and forgetting that fact for even a second puts their life and your peace of mind at risk.
I’ve sat in the waiting room of an emergency room three times in my life. Once because I’d gashed open my eyebrow, the next because my dad had sliced open his arm, and the other because my mom had some bleeding that was out of control. The time I was there for myself, I barely remember more than the pain and wondering if I’d ever feel okay again. The wait was excruciating, but eventually we were seen by a doctor who took one look at it and said he’d need to put stitches in. It was late in the night and they quickly prepped me, numbed me, stitched me up, and sent me on my way. They said I’d need to come back in to get the stitches taken out, but because there was too much going on in my family’s life and because we didn’t have much money, my dad took the stitches out in my parent’s bathroom with a pair of tweezers from an old medicine kit. To this day I have a small scar on my eyebrow and I’m reminded of the wisdom, patience, and compassion those doctors showed to terrified, little, eight-year-old me.
When we went in for my dad, it was one of those classic horrifying cuts that dads seem to have a knack for acquiring. He was working on a project in the back yard when my siblings and I heard him yell. The next thing we knew, he had his arm wrapped in a bunch of shop towels and was telling us to all get in the car. He drove us to the hospital because we were all too young to drive or be left at home alone and he essentially had to admit himself. They took him in immediately and started getting him cleaned up. I remember sitting in the waiting room late that night and wondering whether or not my dad was ever going to come back out. I gathered that he’d sliced his arm and I knew that it was all going to be okay, but it was cold, it smelled like chemicals, and neither of my brothers were old enough to comfort me. The wait wasn’t all that long and I remember being so relieved when my dad walked back out through those doors. He came and gave us hugs, signed some papers, we drove home, and he sent us to bed.
It’s one thing for your dad to hurt himself and have to go the ER, but it’s another thing entirely when it’s a continuing health concern that suddenly worsens. That’s what happened to my mom. She’d been in a serious car accident a few years earlier, hadn’t made a complete recovery, and when some vaginal bleeding got out of control, we rushed out of the movie theatre and into the ER. My dad had to choose between going with my mom and looking after me, and he chose my mom. Moms are these incredibly strong, infinitely amazing creatures, but in that moment, I didn’t know if I’d ever see mine again and it made perfect sense that he went with her. They were swiftly admitted and I was left to wait. A short while later my dad came back out to get me and we went to see my mom. She was doing okay, but she wasn’t the force of nature I knew she had once been. She looked fragile, the doctors treated her like she was fragile, and for all intents and purposes, she was fragile through and through. They contacted her general practitioner, made a plan for going forward, and my dad and I took our fragile package home. The next few months were rough; full of procedures and hospitals, but she made a full recovery.
The point I’m trying to illustrate is this: Emergency rooms are traumatic whether we want them to be or not. There’s nothing about the experience that says people should feel completely okay and that this should be like a normal day. It may just look like a list of health concerns, or another patient, but that’s someone’s child, someone’s father, someone’s mother; that’s a life you’re now responsible for. I don’t know if I’d be the best person to have in an emergency room, but I do know that if I found myself as a healthcare provider in one, I’d pray constantly. I’d ask God to watch over the patients and guide my mind because I know the God I believe in protects all people; no matter their race, religion, or creed. I’d go in to work each morning with a prayer in my heart and the memory of all those times I’d been in an ER on my mind. I’d make sure to always be at my best and to constantly remember that I’m about to be a part of someone’s life. It’s going to, in some way, shape, or form, be up to me to be the difference between a traumatic ER trip and an ER trip that gave back a life. Nothing’s ever going to completely prepare you for that, but you’ll never make it if you don’t at least try.